Editor's Note: This article is the first in a series of interviews featuring insights from the Spear community and our Spear Talk forum moderators. Subscribe to Digest to be the first to hear about new interviews exploring social media, collaborative dentistry, clinical innovation and more as they are published.
Anyone who has had the privilege of meeting practice owner and Spear visiting faculty instructor Dr. Jeff Lineberry won't hesitate to describe him as dedicated, passionate and committed to growing his profession and community through education.
In fact, Dr. Lineberry's commitment earned him The Rick Canady Award in 2019 — an award given to Spear members who “exude endless dedication to both learning and teaching, serve as a leader in the dental community, and consistently provide value to peers inside and outside of Spear.” Dr. Lineberry is also an accredited member of the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry and a fixture on Spear campus as a workshop mentor.
But beyond his accolades and clinical recognition, Dr. Lineberry sets himself apart among other doctors with his deep commitment to lifelong learning and mentorship. As a Spear Talk moderator, Dr. Lineberry actively supports other doctors who need help with clinical questions, practice management challenges or navigating the challenges of being a practicing dentist.
This month, I sat down with Dr. Lineberry to learn more about his perspective on what's changed over the past few years — both from his work as a campus mentor and a Spear Talk moderator — and discuss what he believes will define the future of dental continuing education.
You're already a forever student of dentistry. We have worked on multiple courses together on campus, so I know how passionate you are about education. What drives you to pursue continuing education?
Dr. Lineberry: “That's a great question. I have always had a constant thirst of knowledge for what I want — but I can say that over my career, it's evolved. Early on, it had a lot to do with not knowing what I didn't know. I'm sure you and a lot of other dentists have experienced that moment when you get out of dental school and you start practicing — and you begin to realize that you didn't quite learn everything in dental school that you really needed to. In fact, far from it.
Early on in your career, you begin to realize that continuing education is vital to your career and to give your patients the very best care. For me, wanting to be the very best dentist I can be is what's behind my drive for education.”
In addition to pursuing your own education, you're also committed to helping other dentists learn as a Visiting Faculty member and through your work as a Spear Talk moderator. What drives your motivation for mentorship?
Dr. Lineberry: “I can speak from personal experience with that, because one of the things is that I've found that dentists that I looked up to and thought highly of where those that mentored me. My first mentor was Dr. Keith Phillips, a dentist who was very passionate about continuing education. I was fortunate to connect with him before I went off to dental school because when I spoke with him, he made me feel like dentistry was the best thing since sliced bread. He was very passionate about his craft.
A common thing I've found with dentists that were successful and happy in their careers is that, many times, they had mentors. For me, that's part of my passion to give back to other dentists — a bit like paying it forward, so to speak. Like passing the flame, if you will, of the knowledge and sharing that goes along with dentistry because you don't get all this stuff in books or even online.”
What are your recommendations for young dentists who are looking for the right mentor right now?
Dr. Lineberry: “First, I'd recommend getting involved with local groups and attending continuing education events — including on Spear campus. This is especially true for Spear campus workshops, since I've had lots of people come up to ask me about things since they recognize me from campus and Spear Talk.
I think asking around is always a good thing to do — simply putting it out there to say, 'Hey, do you mind if I pick your brain over a case?' or, 'I was thinking about this, do you mind if I ask you some more questions?' It helps when you start making those connections.”
In a recent article on Spear Digest about continuing education for new dentists, author Dr. Andrew Choi writes, 'For a younger dentist, doing a full mouth rehab is like a tadpole jumping into an ocean.' Why is mentorship so important in this context?
“Of course, it's always better to talk to your mentor before you get into a tough clinical situation — but we've all had those situations where we've gotten in over our head and we go, 'Oh, that wasn't what I was expecting.' I think that it goes back to the learning curve, where you just don't know what you don't know.”
Dr. Lineberry: “At some point in our practicing careers, I think all of us have had that feeling of overwhelm. There is a time and point where you step into a clinical situation and realize that you're in over your head, or there's more going on than what you suspected, or things start changing rapidly for the patient.
That's where [the value of] mentorship. For me, I think that's where the best learning opportunities occur. That's a perfect opportunity to engage your mentor and talk to them about it. Of course, it's always better to talk to your mentor before you get into a tough clinical situation — but we've all had those situations where we've gotten in over our head and we go, 'Oh, that wasn't what I was expecting.' I think that it goes back to the learning curve, where you just don't know what you don't know.”
As a Spear Talk moderator, you spend a lot of time interacting with doctors through our forum — many of which are pursuing education online or on campus. Where do you think there's value in having access to a forum in the context of clinical growth and mentorship?
“There's also a huge portion of doctors on Spear Talk that are very similar-minded people — they are driven to be the best dentist that they can be, and they want to keep furthering their continuing education. I would call it a level of excellence where everyone is committed to continually growing and thriving in their practices and providing the best patient care.”
Dr. Lineberry: “I think one of the nice things about Spear Talk is that it's a safe environment. When you're going back to not knowing what you don't know — everybody's been there at some point because it's a very humbling experience. You need to have a place where it's safe to be able to ask questions and you don't feel like people are going to judge you or say things like, 'Why did you do this?' It's a very supportive environment of where people are there to help and guide other doctors when they need it.
There's also a huge portion of doctors on Spear Talk that are very similar-minded people — they are driven to be the best dentist that they can be, and they want to keep furthering their continuing education. I would call it a level of excellence where everyone is committed to continually growing and thriving in their practices and providing the best patient care. Spear Talk is an environment where doctors can enjoy that shared commitment.”
As a Spear Talk moderator myself, I know how much time you commit to helping doctors through that forum. Can you tell us a little bit about the value of that commitment, from your point of view?
Dr. Lineberry: “With some of these longer posts — with something like half a page written up — I may easily put an hour worth of time into typing that response. Usually when a doctor asks a question, there are five other people thinking about the same question, they just may not raise their hand. In the case of Spear TALK, you may have 50 other people who are in a similar situation, but they don't feel ready to post the question.
Spear Talk is a lot like other social media in that you have people browsing through it. Some people are more engaged in the process and some people are there, searching for and gathering information they seem from other doctors' questions.”
Learning modalities have changed considerably over the past few years. How do you online vs. campus-style continuing education evolving in the future, for all generations of dentists?
“To me, I think online learning is here to stay — but I don't think it's the end-all-be-all for education. I think there will continue to be a huge component of clinical learning where hands-on teaching and in-person interaction is crucial. There is so much that happens in a campus environment that doesn't online — and unless you've experienced it, you don't get it.”
Dr. Lineberry: “Well, I think that obviously the pandemic definitely kind of drove home the fact that online education is here to stay. In other words, we had several months in which the value of online education has been proven — we do know that there is a place for online education and connecting with people and sharing information. In my opinion, however, we're people — and we want to interact with other people. There's a certain part of that experience you can only get in-person.
I'll give you a great example — recently, my son wanted to do some work on his truck. I've got a mechanical background since my dad was a part-time mechanic, so I said, 'Sure, we could do that,' and so he said, 'I got the YouTube video and it looks pretty straightforward, Dad.' Long story short, what looked like would take about 20 minutes took about three hours, and I had to figure out how to disengage, how to use my mechanic background to fill in the gaps that the video didn't cover.
A lot of that doesn't just happen online — there's a lot of learning that occurs outside of the classroom because questions come up during clinical practice. On campus, you often have the option to go back to the instructor and say, 'Hey, I have some questions.'
To me, I think online learning is here to stay — but I don't think it's the end-all-be-all for education. I think there will continue to be a huge component of clinical learning where hands-on teaching and in-person interaction is crucial. There is so much that happens in a campus environment that doesn't online — and unless you've experienced it, you don't get it.”
Tell me a little bit about our campus workshops and the value they bring for doctors. As a clinician and a workshop instructor, how do you think this format benefits doctors?
Dr. Lineberry: “When you start pursuing hands-on learning, you're truly bridging the gap between what you've learned in the classroom or online and the actual incorporation of it in the practice. If you've got mentors in the class like we do at Spear, then you got people there who can give you some simple tricks that can make significant impact on techniques or how well things flow.
Bottom line, for me and for Dr. Spear and pretty much any other clinician that doctors look up to didn't get [all their expertise and wisdom] in the classroom. Their expertise came from putting it to work in their practice. That's where it really makes a difference.”
Let's be honest — you don't spend all your time on campus or on Spear Talk! What are you reading, watching or listening to right now that you think our readers may find interesting?
Dr. Lineberry: “The biggest thing that I'm focused on right now is working on myself on a personal level. One thing that I've learned over the years is that, as dentists, we tend to be very giving and caring professionals. We like to fix everything — we're fixers. The challenge is that we don't spend a lot of time on ourselves.
That's where I'm at right now — trying to improve myself physically and emotionally. That helps me be a better person and a better dentist. It helps sustain the energy levels that help drive my passion for taking care of my patients, as well as everything else.”
Dr. Bonk: “I agree — we tend to put ourselves on the backburner and don't take care of ourselves as much as we should. It's important that you stay healthy physically, mentally, and educationally. I think it comes back down to our basics at Spear Education — continuing growth and development for our members and doctors.”
Drs. Jeff Bonk and Jeff Lineberry are moderators for Spear Talk, our doctors-only forum for Spear members.