Dr. Josh Berd is a dentist and educator. His question “How can technology improve the dental health care experience?” led to founding The Dentist Group in San Francisco, where he and his sister Dr. Helen De Francesco are currently dentists. Dr. Berd and Dr. De Francesco were raised in San Francisco, and both attended the University of Pacific School of Dentistry.
How did you get to where you are today?
J: The saying ‘when one door closes another opens’ really rings true for my professional journey thus far. The most pivotal moments where actually ones of personal failure in a sense, and required reflection and a change of direction.
I’ve always been fascinated with how people experience the world around them which led me to study psychology at university. However, my attempt to gain acceptance into the graduate program of my choice fell short (in part due to my lack of maturity and preparedness at the age of 22). At that time I really asked myself if I still wanted to pursue research in psychology and academia, or become a doctor and work directly with patients. The thought of working directly with people really inspired me, so buried myself in science books for two years, applied to dental school and the journey has been very fulfilling thus far.
H: Since I was a child, I have been curious and fascinated with how the body works. It always came naturally to me to study it. My first job after undergrad was in genetics research for Cleft Lip and Palate. I had the opportunity to travel to exotic places with a team of doctors who would perform surgery on children born with clefts. Though my role was simply to collect samples to bring back to my lab, I had the opportunity to observe and assist the operations. When I witnessed firsthand the direct affect a doctor can have on a patient’s life, I knew I wanted to do that for someone.
My mother has always been a powerful role model for me. She raised my brothers and me while working fulltime as dentist. By example, she helped me come to the decision that dentistry is the right path for me.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
H: I was my own toughest obstacle. Deciding the next step after completing my undergraduate education was confusing and discouraging. I had performed poorly on my first attempt at the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) and had convinced myself I didn’t have what it takes. Instead of picking myself up and trying again, I filled my time with distractions like going out with friends, rearranging my furniture, anything but studying!
What finally gave me the courage to try again was the experience on my very first medical mission. Working side-by-side with a team of tireless and spirited doctors showed me how rewarding a bit of sacrifice can be. Their enthusiasm was contagious and helped give me the drive to succeed on the daunting DAT.
J: When I graduated dental school in 2010, the economy was rock bottom and I had a rough time finding a job in San Francisco. There were jobs in Arizona and Texas (from what my colleagues told me), but I was deeply rooted in The City and decided that moving away from my family was not an option (besides I needed my parent’s emotional support, and a bed to sleep on). I told myself, ‘I know that I can be an excellent dentist and if no one will give me the opportunity to do that, I’ll make my own’. This is the second ‘closed door’ and change of direction. I stopped looking for jobs and instead sub-leased space from other dentists to grow my own practice. Sub-leasing a space for a dentist is kind of like a pop-op restaurant or food truck before opening your own brick and mortar. This gave me a chance to refine my craft, learn from my patients by really listening to them, and over several years I developed a vision of how I wanted people to experience dental care. In a city with over 1000 dentist, it is hard to be unique but I wanted to disrupt the space and offer something new for everyone. The next obstacle was building that dream office. For a small business in San Francisco the challenges of dealing with commercial real estate and construction is something that I certainly was not prepared for (despite having what I thought was a bullet proof plan). But when I opened the doors of The Dentist Group in August of 2016, it was exactly what I had envisioned. What sets my practice apart (or rather forward) is progressive thinking and use of technology to improve the healthcare experience. You can think of my practice as ‘the smart dental office’, in that it has many of the features and comforts that people love about a smart home but applied towards oral health.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
J: I’d say that my passion specifically for pursuing a more progressive model of delivering oral health care is what keeps me focused and motivated. How can I lose motivation? There is so much more to learn and to create! I’m just getting started.
H: Staying focused and motivated is always a work in progress. Attending continuing education courses surrounds me with brilliant minds and helps stimulate new goals. Participating in medical missions reminds me what got me into health care in the first place. Spending time with my colleagues helps me bounce ideas around and consider different points of view in solving a particular problem.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
H: Don’t make the same mistake twice. Of course it’s ok to make mistakes, so long as you learn from them. Make a whole new set of mistakes, just don’t repeat them!
J: Build a strong network of social support. Have people around you who’ll encourage you, provide advice, mentorship and assistance.
What advice do you have for another person who is looking to get into your field, specifically?
J: Things have been done the same way in healthcare for many, many years. Don’t be afraid of taking a new approach to a problem and be creative.
H: There are many DDS graduate programs out there. Don’t send your application out to all of them hoping one will take you. Hone in on the one you want to go to the most. Talk to their admissions director, find out what they look for in a quality candidate, and become that person.
How do we get more women leaders?
J: My dental school really stressed the importance of mentorship. A more senior student or faculty is partnered with the incoming prospect to encourage growth and provide support. In the last decade women have been increasingly encouraged to pursue the healthcare professions. There are now more female than male applicants to dental schools. In the upcoming years there will be more female than male dental school graduates in California. Also, the local dental society has had several female presidents in recent years, in part due to the supportive community and mentorship.
H: We need to confront our social and cultural biases to get more women in leadership roles. Teaching young girls how to assert themselves, compete, and self-promote in an amiable way will give them some of the skills required to lead. We also need to teach boys to value their roles within the home. Pushing for more balance in work/home role fulfillment will help close the gender gap.