White Coat Ceremony
The 2018 White Coat Ceremony took place on August 10, 2018. The keynote speaker was Greg Prince, DDS, PhD. Below is the text of his keynote speech from White Coat Ceremony:
"My great-uncle was the first of many dentists in the extended Prince family. He graduated from USC in 1928. At that time, dental drills were belt-driven devices whose speed was measured in thousands of RPM, and the drill bits were made of steel. Silver amalgam, the filling material of choice, was made at the chair side by dropping a silver powder and a drop of liquid mercury into a mortar and pestle, hand-mixing them until the consistency was smooth, placing the amalgam into a cloth filter and wringing out the excess mercury by hand.
My father graduated from USC a generation later, in 1943—the same year that the American Association of Endodontics was founded. Since Dad had not had any instruction in endodontics, he didn’t perform root canal therapy in the 44 years he practiced dentistry. Much of the manner in which he practiced dentistry in his early years was the same as my great-uncle: a belt-driven drill, steel bits, and silver amalgam mixed at the chair side in a mortar and pestle.
I represented the third generation of Prince dentists, graduating from UCLA in 1973. Much had changed since my father’s generation. The belt-driven drill had been replaced by the air-turbine drill, whose speed was measured in hundreds of thousands of RPM; steel bits had been replaced by carbide and diamond; silver amalgam was mixed in pre-measured, disposable capsules, thus eliminating contact with the skin; composite filling materials had revolutionized the treatment of dental caries in anterior teeth; endodontics was a core component of the undergraduate dental curriculum; and dental implants were showing promise, although the technology had not yet matured.
You are in the Class of 2022, two generations, and a half-century beyond me. The technology and materials associated with dentistry have advanced far more in the two generations since I graduated than they did in the prior two. Just consider how personal computers, which did not exist until two decades after I graduated, have revolutionized nearly everything in the dental office. But one thing has not changed at all in five generations, and that is the need for personal integrity. Unlike technology, which is handed to you as a finished product in whose development you had no role, integrity must be earned and maintained at a personal level. You won’t find it in a catalog or online.
But the integrity that was largely taken for granted in my generation and prior ones is now under assault throughout society, with dentistry being no exception. Truth is being dismissed as irrelevant or counter-productive. A person’s word no longer is his or her bond, and even written contracts are frequently ignored, with one party daring the other to file a lawsuit to enforce compliance with terms already agreed to. At the highest levels of our society, lying is looked upon by many as preferable to truth.
But truth does matter. Character does count. And so I make a plea for you to embrace integrity on three levels. The first is with yourself; the second, with your patients; the third, with society.
For two decades, I headed a biotech company in Maryland that brought in over one hundred bright, young people for summer internships. Most wanted to go into medicine, some into dentistry. I asked all the same question: Where is your passion? Most gave the correct answer, but some acknowledged that they were choosing medicine or dentistry because of parents, boyfriend or girlfriend; or because they wanted a good income. Those were not good answers, and many who gave them used the summer in our laboratory to find their passion, and then reconsider and reorient their career pathways. None regretted a change in course.
If your passion is dentistry, then congratulations. You are in the right place. This is not just a good dental school, but a great one, notwithstanding its youth. You will be well prepared for a career that likely will extend for a half-century—which is a decade or more longer than that of your parents or their parents.
Although you have chosen dentistry, you still have three basic career choices ahead of you: family practice, clinical specialization, and academics, which can include teaching and research. Learn all you can about as many areas of dentistry as you can, and as you work through your four years here, try to find the area that matches your skills and passion. Most of you will amass a formidable amount of debt by the time you get your degrees, but try not to make a career choice on the basis of potential income. I know many specialists, both in dentistry and medicine, who wound up in a bad career marriage whose primary goal was money. It is very, very difficult to get out of such a marriage.
One or two of you will hear the call of research, as I did during my freshman year at UCLA. I responded to that call, stayed for two years after my classmates graduated in order to earn a PhD in pathology, and then drove to Maryland for a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health—and have been in Maryland ever since. With two doctorate degrees in hand, I began my career at an annual salary of $20,000—not even minimum wage in today’s economy, and many-fold lower than most of my classmates who had only one doctorate. It was the right decision for me, and I have never regretted it. One small, but significant sector of pediatric medicine is different because of that decision.
So have the personal integrity to identify your passion, and then follow it. There is no substitute for getting up every day and wanting to go to work.
The second level is integrity towards your patients. As a clinician, you will be given an extraordinary amount of trust by them. Most of them will be in no position to second-guess your treatment plans, and that means that you, and only you, will decide how ethical you want your practice to be. There is not likely to be an external reality check. What I was taught by my father—and I never strayed from it during the twenty years that I practiced family dentistry—was to lay out options in plain language, explain pros and cons of each option, and let the patient make the decision. I never regretted dentistry practiced in that manner.
But not all dentists hold to that standard. Many offer only the highest-cost option—sometimes “selling” dental treatment that is not even needed—and most patients will not question that option. Will you have the integrity to put the patient’s welfare first, and your bank account second? It shouldn’t be that difficult a decision for you to make, for dentistry continues to be a profession that affords both a comfortable standard of living and discretionary time, without discarding personal integrity.
Discretionary time brings me to the third level of integrity. Once you stabilize your practice, how will you spend your discretionary time and income?
Look around you, and on all sides you will see a divisive, angry society. Never in my lifetime of seventy years have there been such deep divisions along racial, ethnic, gender, political and religious lines. There is a real and present danger that our democracy will suffer irreparable damage—unless individual citizens ramp up the level of their personal integrity. Abraham Lincoln’s warning three years before the beginning of the Civil War rings ominously true today: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” Do not underestimate the amount that you, as individual citizens, can do to build bridges and heal wounds, rather than drive wedges and cause societal injury. Integrity will be your toolkit. The opportunities to gather and to heal will be endless. As with your career choice, let passion guide you in spending your time and means on the greater good. A bit of scripture from my own religious tradition says it better than I can: “Be not weary in well-doing… Out of small things proceeds that which is great.”
Have integrity. Do small things that are good, because good things well stuck to become great.
Oh, and don’t forget: Give back to the school that will give much to you."