In this edition of Treloar Talks, I speak with Dr. Matthew Walker, a general dentist in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Dr. Walker earned his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University and his dental degree from Oklahoma University in 2001. He has maintained a commitment to continuing education and has pursued advanced training in laser gum surgery (LANAP), cosmetic reconstruction and dental implant dentistry.
Blake Brownell: Tell us about your practice and the community you serve.
Dr. Matthew Walker: I’m a lifelong resident of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It’s a community of about 20,000 people, but as the county seat for the larger area, it draws upon a population of about 45,000 to 50,000. It’s a somewhat underserved community. I practiced here for 10 years by myself before my brother joined me.
How did you and your brother start working together?
When my brother graduated dental school in 2009, he took a job with the Cherokee Nation that gave him Fridays off, so he would work in my practice on those days. The space I had for the practice was too small for both of us. After about two years, I decided to build a new facility — a 10 operatory practice. That’s when he joined full time, and we have been off to the races ever since.
What motivated you to take on that big project?
The bank was the first thing that kept me motivated. When I got out of dental school, I remember several of my classmates saying they felt it was too risky to go into a solo dental practice. And my thought was, well, I have about $10 to my name, so if the bank would loan me money, I’ll give it a shot — and I did. I bought a modestly sized practice from a dentist in Tahlequah.
The desire to succeed drove me more than anything else. It was fun, it was stressful and it was a little scary, but you hustle and go in every day, doing the best you can. Fortunately for me, it worked out well.
What allowed you to be successful early on?
The practice took off quickly because in that community at the time, there was a huge need for pediatric dental care, and few dentists addressed it. In dental school, I had a special interest in this area, and I participated in a pediatric honors program, which helped a lot. I also had interest in endodontics, a specialty that several dentists in our town did not offer. A few of them referred cases to me, which was helpful.
Being open to doing lots of different procedures helped me grow. Not that it was easy to learn all those skills — it wasn’t. But I’ve always thought that it’s important for general dentists to be well-versed in a variety of procedures to be able to serve their patients well, especially in a rural community like ours.
How have you expanded your practice and developed your skills throughout your career?
I’ve always felt a responsibility to provide all the technology and techniques that patients can access in communities larger than ours because that’s what people want and need. Granted, there are still patients willing to drive an hour and a half to go see a specialist, but most people would prefer to have those services right here in town.
I discovered that if I couldn’t offer a particular service, most often the patient wouldn’t get it done at all, even when I referred them to someone else. Now that I’m more experienced and skilled, I offer them the choice to do it here (if we offer it) or to go to another provider. Most times, they say, “If you can do it here yourself, please go ahead and do it.” My philosophy is to be honest and upfront with patients about our capabilities and their options. Every time someone has chosen to give me the opportunity to perform a procedure that’s new, it’s both motivated me and allowed me to expand my skillset.
Who has helped you along the way?
I was fortunate to have access to specialists willing to help me. I called them a lot when I was learning to perform new procedures. I told them what I was learning to do, but I also faithfully referred to them when I knew that my patients would be better served through them. I made a point to associate myself with people who are good in their chosen field and they, in turn, became good mentors.
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Treloar & Heisel, Inc. and its divisions do not offer career management advice. The information in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not guarantee career success. Please consult a professional concerning this topic.
~Blake Brownell, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Treloar & Heisel
This blog post was sponsored by Treloar & Heisel.