Dare to Be Stupid

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By Dr. Carrie Mauterer
From the Spring 2017 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

Yesterday, I found myself locked in a basement room of a hospital with three strangers. Lying in a dental chair in the middle of this room was a high-tech training manikin blinking at us in a creepy manner (think life-sized Chucky doll here). As my pulse sped up, I stopped and asked myself, “Tell me why I signed up for this emergency management course again?” I also wondered, “Who is the actual dummy here—me, or manikin Chucky?” Four video cameras blinked from each corner of the ceiling, mocking me in a silent response to my questions while they recorded my every movement. The training experience was incredibly realistic, with a manikin that could converse and even joke with us. It could also provide actual vital signs for us. Blood pressure, oxygen saturation, respiration rate and heart rate could all be truly measured and altered on our manikin Chucky.

The simulations were intense. The room felt heavy with doubt and fear. We made frantic phone calls to EMS, obeyed the robotic AEDs giving relentless commands, and searched desperately for a pulse and breathing signs. At one point we had one group member running around with the EpiPen screaming, “I’ve got the epi! Where does it go?” While another group member was running around with Chucky’s detached leg screaming, “I’ve got the leg—where’s the epi?” I jest, of course. At no point in our simulations did we actually dismember Chucky. My group was quite talented and brilliant and professional. It was a group that would have made Grey’s Anatomy character Dr. McDreamy quite proud. After saving Chucky for long enough, we all sat down in the debriefing room to hash out our mistakes and our victories—all caught on video for the world to see. Throughout my emergency simulations, I readily confess that I didn’t get every scenario right. I made mistakes and let Chucky down. But in the end, I didn’t care. I learned so much more from screwing up as an active participant than I ever would have if I had taken an observer role.

So why did I race to put myself in this uncomfortable situation? Why did I pay money for people to intimidate and trick me? Well, I had an epiphany that answered that question. As it turns out, I love to nurture my inner idiot.

If you are a little more politically correct than me, you may cringe when I refer to my inner idiot. If you prefer, please replace this phrase with “the inner part of us that embodies a perpetual childlike curiosity.” I’ll stick with inner idiot. Most of us try to hide our inner idiot out of fear that we will be judged for making mistakes or asking questions we think we should already know the answer to. I love to bust my inner idiot out. I eat that stuff up! I find it is the most efficient way to get to the information I need. I have relied on my inner idiot to get me through all kinds of situations—the first day of dental school, building a practice from scratch, constructing a ground-up building, raising five boys…the list goes on. What’s at the top of my list you ask? You guessed it. Organized dentistry has invoked my inner idiot more times than I can count.

The political aspect of organized dentistry is very intimidating to me. I grew up in a family that felt it was rude to discuss politics at dinner. I have no dentists in my family. I barely remember anything from eighth grade civics class. I had to learn everything about dental politics from scratch. I felt like I knew nothing about the political side of organized dentistry, or even how to start asking questions about it. The first year that I was elected as an alternate delegate to the American Dental Association House of Delegates, my inner idiot pushed me to ask a ridiculous amount of questions of my colleagues. I was baffled and discombobulated frequently as the leaders of our district used acronyms and terms I was unfamiliar with. I was nervous my comrades would tire of numbing questions from the naïve noob, but nay; they answered all of my questions kindly and encouraged more. I found it to be incredibly easy to nurture my inner idiot.

The victories of the political part of organized dentistry are palpable every day in my office. The three areas I am most passionate about protecting are:
1. Keeping my patient-doctor relationship sacred. No one except a qualified oral health professional should be diagnosing and recommending treatment to my patient. Clearly, a congresswoman in Washington, nor a senator in Denver, nor a claims adjustor in Lexington does not know my patient’s needs as well as I do.
2. Avoiding the high volume care that has caused so much burnout for our counterparts practicing family medicine. I love my job. Everyday. I am good at my job because I have enough time to get to know my patient. I thank organized dentistry for fighting for fair reimbursement from third party payers so that I can continue to take the time to do what is right for my patients.
3. Avoiding costly mandates that don’t improve a patient’s care but place an unnecessary burden on me as a dentist and a practice owner.

Organized dentistry is fighting the brave fight to protect the areas I am most passionate about. We don’t always win, but we certainly win more than if we didn’t try. I admire all my colleagues in organized dentistry who have nurtured their inner idiots. They routinely place themselves outside of their comfort zones in order to be smarter and more effective political dentists.

We need your help in organized dentistry. More specifically I need your help. I need more people who are willing to jump in and feed their inner idiot. People who aren’t afraid to ask questions and get to the bottom of what the field of dentistry needs. If intimidation is what is holding you back from diving into political dentistry, please reach out to me. We can feed our inner idiots together and build a stronger, smarter society. Dare to be stupid with me!