Dentistry had never appeared on his radar as a career option, but Dr Paresh Shah tells us about getting a nudge toward the profession from his family. And this many years later, drawing on a strong study club network and the wisdom shared by invaluable mentors—including encouragement to own your work and two essential tips from a previous practice owner that shaped his treatment philosophy—Paresh has built an incredible team, bested his professional Kryptonite, and established a solid work/life balance that includes regular hockey games with his closest friend and Michelin-rated dinners with his daughter!
Q Tell us about getting started—what brought you to dentistry?
Truthfully, I was about to start a PhD in physiology and my father, a physician, and my wife sat me down and suggested I consider dentistry. He didn’t think medicine was the best profession for me at that time—that it wouldn’t provide the work life balance dentistry would. Dentistry wasn’t even on my radar. I went ahead with the application process and took time speaking to close friends and mentors. When I got in, I still had funding for my PhD, so I knew I could go back if dental school wasn’t for me. I considered oral surgery, but I was 31 and my daughter Serena was on her way. I was ready to get on with my career and I have no regrets. I really settled in after my first term.
Q Where did you go to school?
All my schooling has been in Winnipeg—University of Manitoba.
Q What are your big influences in life and in practice?
Oh wow, that’s a tough question as it has evolved over the years. My family and close friends always influence and inspire. I had an amazing person I did my master’s degree in physiology under—Dr Friesen was one of the brightest minds I knew, and he taught me to work hard and think critically. In terms of dentistry there are too many mentors to mention, but at the top of the list are Michael Cohen, Paul Belvedere and John Kois. The last two have influenced how I practice. Michael has had a huge influence on me professionally and in life.
Q What did your parents do, how did they influence your choices in life, and what is the biggest lesson you learned from them?
My father is a retired physician, and my mother raised our family as I grew up. They showed me how hard work can lead to success and happiness. We left India when I was very young to find a new life and opportunity in Canada. We started with very little, and it has been a great ride.
Q What are common misconceptions aspiring or student dentists have about the work?
That doing restorative dentistry can be routine or mundane. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. You get back what you put into it, but we can make a huge impact in a person’s life and collaborating with different disciplines makes it next level.
Q How has a mentor helped you become a better practitioner?
My first clinical mentor was Dr Paul Belvedere and he taught me to take ownership of everything I do, to self-reflect, and to always understand everything about what we do. He was adamant about not depending on others to tell you how to do the work. His message was simple—learn it and own it.
Q You’ve mentioned owning your work a few times. What does taking ownership look like? Is there a practice you employ that directly demonstrates Dr Belvedere’s advice?
It really comes down to a practice of ongoing self-review, of always looking to improve my thinking, process or approach. If something doesn’t go the way it should, I check to see what I could have done or where I had control before ever looking externally.
Q What is your business or practice management Kryptonite?
Human resources. For the longest time it was dealing with staff, training and accountability. I’m way better now than before. I read a lot of business books and talked to successful mentors and friends (masterminding). I’ve also hired various coaches—the most recent is known to Seattle Study Club: GG Practice Coaching and Development.
Q What was the best money you ever spent in, with or on your practice?
Digital scanner, hands down. It opened a whole new world and is a must-have in my opinion.
Q Describe an early experience in which you learned the importance of patient care.
When I purchased my practice, the retiring dentist said he had two things I needed to know:
- If a patient tells you their denture hurts, believe them even if you don’t see it.
- You can always be fired by a patient. (This is so true—the relationship is only as good as your involvement and connection.)
These two pieces of advice shaped my treatment philosophy by reminding me to do my best to listen and show empathy.
Q How do you balance making demands of the patient with taking care of the patient?
I have a set of core values and strategic anchors. One of them is having patients partner in their care with us, meaning they have to own their conditions. I also focus on comprehensive diagnosis, and if something doesn’t feel right—if I don’t feel they really want to take ownership of their care and improve—I prefer to decline treating.
Q What book(s) are you currently reading?
Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin; Think Again, by Adam Grant; and Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey.
Q Have you read anything recently that makes you think differently about dentistry, patient care, or wellness? Tell us about it.
Think Again, by Adam Grant. This book applies to life in general, but its principles and thought process have made me realize that with anything we need to consider there may be better ways than the usual and customary. I’ve always felt that way, but it reinforced that it’s ok to reassess the old ways and evolve as long as it makes sense. Rewiring our brains to think differently also works in dentistry.
Q Outside of healthcare, what other type of work have you ever considered?
Oh man, I wanted to be a marine biologist in high school like George Costanza. I think being an architect would be great—designing and creating something unique.
Q Do you read online reviews of your practice? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do, and for many years it bothered me immensely. Now I realize it is part of the package and we can’t please everyone. My recommendation is to learn from them and use them as inspiration to do better. I always involve, share or discuss reviews and lessons learned with my staff because it’s important to show we all can make mistakes and continue to grow at any stage and age in life.