study club group sitting at a table

I’ve heard that humans learn 50% more material when an environment is safe. Dental study clubs are designed to provide that type of environment. The goals of the study clubs I’ve been a part of have been to learn and develop clinical skills and techniques for comprehensive, collaborative dentistry.

Another objective of study clubs is to become more effective with patient care and develop confidence and competence around complex dentistry. Ultimately, club members should have fun learning and studying with peers in a group environment where the interactions help solidify concepts to promote personal and professional growth.

Being involved with a study club brings me creative energy, excitement and a positive attitude for my patients, my office team and my personal life. Spear Study Clubs have the potential to generate tremendous power and influence to change the lives of members.

Over 30 years, my clubs have been extremely powerful and influential instruments of learning. The learning and understanding that I have achieved as the result of being a study club member has provided me with the opportunity to grow and develop my practice and career.

As much as I have enjoyed my study club experience as a member, it was not until I formed my own club that I realized a club’s full potential. My objective is to share that realization with you and to outline for you the possibilities of what can lie ahead, should you embrace study club membership.

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I launched my Chicago-area study club five years ago. I recently sent a letter to our members outlining the upcoming season and restating the goals of our club to generate a positive mindset for the members.

The basic goals of my study club are:

  • We are a learning and sharing group of like-minded professionals
  • Our objective is education first over a “referral-based” mindset
  • Establish an emotionally safe environment for sharing
  • We support, suggest and bolster the Spear philosophy of Facially Generated Treatment Planning
  • We want to influence and encourage development of new skills and understanding
  • We desire to stimulate confidence among members
  • We aim to reinforce, strengthen and move toward a collaborative mindset
  • We want to energize and promote fun in dentistry

These goals should be the basic cornerstones of every Spear Study Club. Success, survival and longevity are anchored to this list of goals and objectives.

But I felt as if there were something missing relative to the energy and excitement of the upcoming year. Something was a bit stale about our objectives. I wanted to give our club a deeper and more intentional meaning.

As I scratched my head and wondered about our goals, I observed some key determinates that began to provide another perspective that underpins a defining aspiration of the club.

The determinates were keywords within the list of goals:

  • Influence
  • Emotion
  • Suggestion
  • Stimulate

These words represent the defining purpose for what was missing in our annual list of goals. These few words define and embody the entire objective of all study clubs. They identify the true definition as to what study clubs are all about.

Inspiration is key to achieving success. Inspiration drives us to attain more, become more and do more. But it is not so much for our own success, but for providing opportunities for those around us to be inspired and succeed. That is true fulfillment.

People and situations around us can provide inspiration to make changes and give us energy to redirect. There were three circumstances that occurred this past year that were instrumental in not only writing this article but giving me a new outlook for our study club. Let me briefly explain, so you may have a better understanding as to why I feel so strongly about the power and influence of study clubs.

First and foremost, our friend and periodontist, Dr. David Cohen, passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a valued contributor to our study club from the start. He was always engaged, willing to learn and earnestly shared his thoughts with every member of the group. It was rare for him to miss a meeting and his insights and perspectives were influential to everyone attending. Dr. Cohen was 50 years old and his passing at such a young age has been very difficult for me to accept. This situation inspired me to support his passion for dentistry and the education of others.

The second circumstance involves Dr. Martin Hogan, one of the restorative colleagues in my club. Dr. Hogan inspires me with his relentless positive energy and attitude. Those reasons may seem a bit overemphasized, since many individuals are positive in nature, but at 40 years old, Dr. Hogan was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. As a result of this disease, he has battled through three years of intense chemotherapy.

While Dr. Hogan has been unable to work chairside, he maintains his position as director of the General Practice Dentistry Residency Program at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. Throughout this treatment period he has continued to support the clinical needs of the residents and has also maintained regular attendance at our study club meetings. Through all this stress and intense medical therapy, he continues to maintain a positive attitude. He readily contributes his insights, both dental and psychological/emotional, for the benefit of the membership. Dr. Hogan inspires me with how he demonstrates passion, leadership and positive energy to everyone around him.

The third circumstance comes from Dr. Rebecca Long. Her energy, drive and passion for learning and growth from the study club and continuing education courses is inspiring. Dr. Long is a younger member of our club. She has made education and self-improvement a major goal in her career. While she is presently working in a corporate environment, she envisions eventually establishing a fee-for-service restorative practice that provides personalized, relationship-based care that promotes optimum oral health and achieves predictable results for each patient. Sounds like a classic Spear practice. Her story has also inspired me to look at dentistry differently.

My goal – because of the Drs. Cohen, Hogan and Long situations – is to promote dentistry differently to my study club members. I want to create an environment for club members to thrive and develop their skills in a way that is positive, fun, productive and inspiring. Our meetings must have purpose, provide enlightenment and be focused toward objectives that will support individuals and collaborative growth.

For this to become a reality, a redirection and refocus of the study club environment must be developed. I named my club “Inspire” because I was so inspired by the circumstances and stories of my members. The club title embodies the emotion, energy and passion that I felt as I reflect on these influential stories and individuals.

While the name of my club was important, I also wanted a visual representation of my goal, so I created an “Inspire” logo, which was embossed on lapel pins for each club member. Each member was provided two pins at our first meeting of the year. The first pin was for each to wear as representation of their membership. The second pin was provided so that each member could share the pin with someone who exhibited inspirational ideals, situations or objectives, as a way of expanding our “inspiring” family. The goal is to have those who inspire others share their story to members at the following meeting.

To inspire is powerful. The definition of inspire relates to movement, influence or guidance toward objectives or emotions. I felt it was important to identify what those objectives would be for our study club, since members need to be inspired toward something concrete. There needs to be a reason for inspiration.

Here’s a list of inspirational objectives for you to ponder:

  • Curiosity
  • Purpose
  • Growth
  • Learning
  • Happiness
  • Relationship, trust and safety
  • Leadership and influence
  • Collaboration

I hope you will engage and incorporate some, or all, of these objectives within your study groups. And I hope you will find them inspirational for you and your members.

Jeffrey Bonk, D.D.S., is a member of Spear Resident Faculty.