Never Waste a Good Crisis: An Opportunity to Bounce Forward

by Dr. Peter Fritz, BSc, DDS, FRCD(C), PhD (Perio), MBA

Given the requirement for aerosol generating procedures to provide effective dental treatment, the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly challenging for all dental professionals.

As leaders of our teams, dentists are used to being prepared for all sorts of emergencies. However, emergencies and disasters are quite different. During an emergency you need quick decision making; there is urgency, uncertainty and decisions are tactical, rather than strategic.

A disaster is a collection of emergencies on a much larger scale, and in the case of COVID-19, it is global. Co-ordination between agencies is critical and strategic implications are often more important than rapid tactical decisions.

We are into the phase of this global disaster where we must develop a maturity about the situation, demonstrate adaptability and make sensible decisions. Darwin pointed out that during serious downturns, those that survive are not the strongest or even the most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change.

So perhaps, we should be flexible and see the crisis as an opportunity not to get back to how things were, but to find ways to take advantage of the situation; to innovate, improve and to bounce forward.

One notable adaptable clinician-scientist-educator that we can learn from during these times of crisis is Dr. Peter Birek. Dr. Birek recently retired from the University of Toronto but continues to lead his patients, motivates his team and unremittingly inspires those around him.

Dr. Birek taught me many things, and continues to do so, but three of his lessons strongly resonated during the turbulent months of 2020 in adapting to the global disaster that is the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every complication and crisis is a learning opportunity. Document your mistakes and share your failures with others so they can learn from your experience. He would say, “I’m only better at this procedure than you because I have made more mistakes than you, but never the same mistake twice.” Progress comes from the intelligent use of our experiences and sharing those experiences.

Give me success or its eternal pursuit and I’ll take the pursuit. This eternal pursuit involves perpetual life-long, global learning as the world around us never stops teaching us. Dr. Birek would argue that success must be measured by the ways in which we impact the lives of others, rather than the impact they have on us.

Planning and preparedness are paramount for any effective surgical maneuver, handling an emergency, or mitigating a disaster. Dr. Birek taught me that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.

It is an honour to follow a mentor of mine, Dr. Peter Birek as editor of the Periodontics edition of Oral Health and to bounce our community of adaptable and like-minded health care practitioners forward and to use this global disaster as a building block for something great.

About the Editor

Peter Fritz, is a full-time periodontist in Fonthill, ON and is on a mission to redefine the way people think about periodontal and implant wellness. He leads an extraordinary, collaborative, empowered team of clinicians, makers, scientists and artists who are all working together to innovate the dental specialty of periodontics and redefine the patient experience. He is an Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor, Division of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, Department of Surgery, Michael DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University and Adjunct Professor Department of Kinesiology, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, Centre for Bone and Muscle Research, Brock University.