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Practicing Orthodontics As Vocation And Avocation

01 June 2016 Written by  By Yosh Sakasegawa, DDS MS
Published in June 2016 Articles

In 2005 I wanted to open my own orthodontic practice.

The economy was booming, so I followed the growth to Brentwood, started Diablo Orthodontics Specialists, and spent three years developing the business. Then the bust happened and a lot of families moved their orthodontic plans to the back burner. Even though my business slowed, I continued moving in the right direction. I had learned some valuable best-practice methods from a decade working as an associate in a Moraga orthodontic practice that established their  business on the awesome reputation of the main orthodontist. I realized that establishing a great practice would require my developing a reputation for outstanding excellence, which meant that I had to put my whole heart into the business. And I did!

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
In 1988, following a year-long journey of self-discovery in Japan, I dedicated myself to a long-time goal of becoming an orthodontist. I had been drawn by the lure of orthodontics at an early age when my two sisters got braces. I was fascinated by  the technology and by the transformations that the braces made in their appearance and in the subsequent improved quality of their lives. The practice of orthodontics later came to have special appeal because I realized that, just as with my sisters, orthodontists are able to create relationships over time with their patients and to actually make positive and ongoing changes in their lives. Orthodontists are not merely fixing something broken or relieving pain; they are engaged in promoting self-improvement and making dramatic quality-of-life transformations for their patients.

I had previously earned a degree in Biology, which had served to satisfy my science requirements, so after returning from Japan I enrolled in the UCSF School of Dentistry, which turned out to be a rigorous training program that packed a lot of learning into four years. We were forced to master the basic sciences and then to understand how chemistry and physics worked in the materials and products of our profession. The best part of the program turned out to be the deep and enduring associations that I made with many of my classmates. For some classmates, the rigorous and sometimes brutal demands drove them into seclusion and isolation. For most of us, however, the difficult times we were going through served to create a fellowship of shared suffering that has endured until today. Following graduation in 1994, I did a three year residency and earned a masters degree in Orthodontics at the University of Michigan, one of the top three orthodontic residency programs in the country. They have a reputation for applying the findings of progressive clinical research in creating out-of-the-box practical applications and solutions for orthodontic problems. 

The U of M was wonderful, but I seriously missed the California sunshine. Some people say they admire a climate where you can experience four actual seasons, but what they don’t tell you is that two of those seasons can be wretched. The cold, snow, sleet, and blizzards of Michigan winters were brutal, and the summertime humidity, heat, swarming mosquitos, and drenching thunderstorms were always inconvenient and sometimes frightening. I wasn’t accustomed to attempting to drive on ice-covered roads without killing myself or swatting at stinging insects and quickly decided that I wanted never to become accustomed to it.

One of my professors referred me to Northern California colleagues, and I subsequently spent ten years working as an associate in an orthodontic office in Moraga. The decade was a great one for me, exposing me to the important details of an actual orthodontic practice that were never covered in school. I learned the day-to-day operations of an orthodontics office, mastered the art of care-management, and learned the most effective ways of encouraging and inspiring patients to thrive during their orthodontic experience including techniques for managing their rubber bands and keeping teeth clean.

BACK STORY
I was born in 1964. I was the youngest of three children and the only son, so I was given special attention by my doting parents. Ours was a typical middle-class family. Dad was an engineer; Mom was a public school teacher. Both are ethnic Japanese, and both were born and raised in Hawaii. Dad joined the Army, was stationed in Fort Ord near Monterey, married Mom, and they started their married life in Salinas while he attended college at San Jose State on the GI Bill. They settled in San Jose, which became my hometown.

Following high school, I enrolled at U.C. Berkeley and, since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, I tried to cover my bases by obtaining a double major — Language and Biology.

I wanted to reconnect to my roots and to my parents’ Japanese culture, so following graduation I enlisted in a program called The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program  (JET), which was part of the efforts of the Japanese government to expose children, especially in out-of-the-way areas, to American language and culture. JET provided me an opportunity to teach English to students in Japan. I was assigned to Okayama — a city in the west part of the country and 100 miles east of Hiroshima.

Okayama was a good place for immersion in Japanese culture. It was far from normal tourist destinations, so I was exposed to a conservative brand of Japanese. An interesting phenomenon occurred while I was there. I had intended to increase my connection with my Japanese heritage but instead became more connected with myself as an American. The problem is that I look Japanese and would blend right into the society — until I opened my mouth, since my Japanese language skills were undevel- oped. People would come into a room and ask, “Where’s the foreigner?” The question would always be followed by a moment of dissonance because I absolutely failed to match the picture in their heads of what an American would look like. They could never imagine that I would look just like them. Even though my Japanese language skills improved, I never became part of their society and remained a curious-looking American.

Life is good! I live in Brentwood, a mile from my practice, and will sometimes walk to work when the weather is fair. Family members and friends play important roles in my life. Mom passed a few years ago and my sisters and I conduct monthly family dinners where we focus loving attention on our father, who is in his 80s and doing great. In March we all returned to Hawaii to say hello to Mom, who is interred in the National Cemetery of the Pacific, which is nested in the center of Oahu’s beautiful Punchbowl.

One of the reasons for the success of Diablo Orthodontics Specialists is the overflowing love I have for what I do every day. My practice seems like a sanctuary, where I can engage in the satisfying pursuit of establishing relationships with my patients while I serve them. I make it a point to greet and chat with everyone who comes through the door.

I extend my relationship-building efforts to my staff and show them the warmth and appreciation that makes it natural for them to extend cheerful service to our patients. I’ve worked with members of my team for years. We have developed such a stable family-like atmosphere and familiarity with each other’s communication styles that we sometimes finish one another’s sentences. A shared sense of passion for what we do and a spirit of cooperation creates synergy that naturally enhances job satisfaction and makes it easy to exceed expectations in providing the best orthodontic care possible.

Diablo Orthodontics Specialists will never become a high volume practice; I want to preserve a level of service so high that nobody who comes to us will have any reason to enjoy a less than awesome orthodontic experience. Doing so requires no special commitment because meeting the needs of my patients at every level possible is what drew me to the business in the first place.

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