‘Once a clinician, always a clinician’

Q. How did you get where you are today?
A. I arrived in the US as a refugee from the Vietnam war. After living in New York for a short period, I moved to Australia to reunite with my family. The land of Down Under was very kind to
me, I was trained as a prosthodontist with the University of Adelaide, then operated a private practice in the CBD of Adelaide for over 18 years before I decided to join academia. I was really fortunate to meet great people and was mentored by Drs Graham Mount, a dental material expert, and John McIntyre, a cardiologist, so I ended up with a PhD in an area related to both. In 2007 I decided to take up a position with the National University of Singapore because this country is where the East and West meet. An English-speaking country in Asia and a great place for Lauren, 13 years old, and Nathan, 11 years old, to complete their secondary education.

Q. When did you decide to become a dentist?
A. I have two sisters who are both doctors so when my turn came to choose a career, they convinced me that dentistry was a good choice. With the benefit of hindsight, I think they just wanted free dental treatment for the rest of their lives! The decision was made after arriving in Australia.

Q. What has been the most memorable moment in your career/life?
A. When I completed the PhD degree and decided to join the school full-time. Once a clinician, always a clinician – so I found leaving the practice that I had built from scratch a difficult moment. That was when I realised how attached I was to my patients.

Q. What have been the biggest barriers in your career/life?
A. Leaving Vietnam was difficult and being unable to speak and write English properly during the
undergraduate years.

Q. What do you like/dislike most about your job?
A. As a clinician, I cherish the trust my patients have in me. As an educator, I love the interaction with students and colleagues. As a mentor, I like the feeling that you have made a difference in someone’s life.

Q. What have you learnt most of all about people as a dentist?
A. Communication is the key to success, and once a rapport is established
everything else seems easier.

Q. If you hadn’t had been a dentist what would you have been and why?
A. Maybe a systems analyst – as I love solving problems and designing systems and processes, or a computer game designer as I think there are great opportunities to be creative and I love
anything to do with technology.

Q. What three things would you change about the dentistry profession if you could?
A. 1. In clinical practice, minimal intervention dentistry to become the core philosophy in most private practices
2. In practice, to deliver the best of care to patients without interference by third parties
3. In education, more business training in the undergraduate programme.

Q. How do you think dentistry in the UK compares with the States?
A. Being the fortress of capitalism, everything in the US has to be efficient and practical. I find that the biological approach in treating caries is much better accepted in the UK. On the material side, of course, the biggest difference is the important role that glass ionomers has in everyday practice.

Q. What are the three things you wish you’d known about running a business before you opened yours?
A. 1. I wish someone told ome that front-desk staff can play an important role
in monitoring patients’ compliance and that they can be very effective in managing the third profit centre of a dental surgery – merchandising.
2. I also wish I had known how to motivate staff and to utilise dental auxiliaries efficiently in the delivery of care and to generate incomes for the practice
3. Clinical dentistry is only one part of the job – to be successful in business one has to also be a good manager. So I wish I had known how to better manage the financial side of business, how to budget for incomes and expenses, and how to consider return on investment.

Q. What advice would you give to anyone entering the dental profession now?
A. It is an exciting time with the introduction of new tools, new ways of thinking and working.
This profession is undergoing significant changes all the time, and it is one of the professions that allows close contact with your clientele and personal freedom. You can be a clinician, an educator, a researcher, a businessman and even a combination of all the above. Dentistry gives you flexibility to shape your life.

Q. What’s it like being a high-profile dentist?
A. Very busy and a lot of fun, but also a lot of responsibility.

Q. What in your view is the secret of success?

A. Have a goal, realise your potential and have the will and plan to achieve it. Be realistic and consistent. Apply the principles of total quality: ‘plan, do, check, act’.

Professor Hien Ngo has extensive experience in private practice, research and education. He qualified in dentistry at the University of Adelaide in 1982, and completed a Master of Dental Surgery in fixed prosthodontics in 1990. With a small team, he has delivered dental care based upon the philosophy of minimal intervention over a period of 18 years. He was appointed Visiting Research Fellow to Adelaide University in 1998, research director of the Colgate Australian Clinical Dental Research Centre in 1999, and research consultant of the Centre in 2003. He was also appointed associate professor, working in the fields of dental biomaterials and minimal intervention dentistry, at Adelaide University in 2003. He is now working with the National University of Singapore. Hien Ngo is presenting his seminar – Minimal intervention: Clinical management of caries in private practice – on Friday 12 December 2008 in London. To book your places – or for further information, please call Independent Seminars on 0800 371652 or visit www.independentseminars.com.

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