A Voice in the Arena: The Heart of a Chef by Dr. Chad Foster

A Voice in the Arena: The Heart of a Chef 

Just like a chef manages a successful restaurant, orthodontists must work with their teams to create the perfect recipe

by Chad Foster, DDS, MS, editorial director

My wife and I, like many of you reading this, love to travel and experience new places, cultures and, particularly, food! For us, just going to a new restaurant in our hometown of Phoenix can feel like an escape or new adventure. And without fail, the inner nerd in me views each of these restaurant experiences through my orthodontist lenses.

Because I own a practice and play the challenging role of owner/ leader/manager, I can ascertain fairly quickly whether the restaurant has a strong leader at the helm by the “culture” cues that are present. How the team operates can be very telling in regard to the owner’s personal investment. How is the overall energy, enthusiasm and communication between staff? To me, this says much more than how the team relates to the customers (I expect teams to have at least a minimum level of hospitality). If a problem arises, does the staff come together quickly to act on it as a team problem, or must every member fend for themselves? Do they seem to be enjoying themselves at work and do they seem at home? When no one is watching, does there appear to be camaraderie?

I remember having dinner in Scotland with my wife and our parents when I caught a glance of two waiters in the back of the restaurant: With their arms around one another and facing the tables filled with guests, they warmly clinked espresso cups, toasting the beginning of their evening together. It seemed as if there was nowhere they would rather be in that moment. As a practice owner, not only did I enviously wish to create that environment for my team, by God, I wanted it for myself!

When it comes to the meal itself, the best restaurants I have been to, regardless of cuisine or class, tend to have one thing in common: evidence of a chef who takes complete ownership of his or her craft. The food is meticulously thought through, a truly personal expression of the creator. In these rare experiences, the meal transcends the ordinary to become a tangible representation of the love and heart of the chef.

From the restaurant to the office

Before purchasing my practice five years ago, I had the benefit of not only working in a number of different offices—too many!—but also visiting several of them. Again, without a doubt, the offices with the best results and services have been those where the doctor practices with a high standard of ownership and personal investment in the craft. These doctor/owners are equally as enthusiastic about getting messy in the heat of the kitchen and genuinely relating to and motivating teammates. They also enjoy handling the customer service side of relationship caretaking.

Sometimes this is in the form of a one-doctor, one-location practice, akin to a solo chef-owned restaurant, but it’s also possible in the form of a chain of restaurants owned and managed by a single restauranteur, as long as he or she never lost the heart of a chef. I humbly submit that it is the heart of a chef that is the requirement for excellence, regardless of practice location, style, class, etc.

The large majority of us orthodontists consider ourselves exceptionally fortunate to spend a huge amount of our waking lives working in a career that we love. From residency to retirement, our careers take on different paths, arcs, and ups and downs; there have been countless times in my 10 years of practice where I’ve been unhappy with where I saw myself in relation to my craft. The biggest thing that got me through the tough times and, more often, kept momentum through the happy times is my love for orthodontics.

But like all good things in life, conscious effort and gratitude are necessary to maintain the heart of a chef against petty challenges of the everyday. I know how true that rings with most who are reading this. I see it firsthand in the articles, presentations, posts and discussions that I’m fortunate enough to learn from and the people I share this ride with. Orthodontics has a life and evolution of its own, and we are blessed to share space in a small window of a life that will hopefully outlive us all. For today, happily back to the kitchen!

Sound off with your opinion! Did you find editorial director Dr. Chad Foster’s ideas in this column well-done ... or half-baked? We encourage readers to share their opinions and experiences; to get started, leave a comment under this column. These online message boards are open to (and viewable by) only licensed orthodontists who’ve been verified as members of the Orthotown community!

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