Considering how few of these awards are given out, I must admit that it’s shocking to me how often I encounter an award winner in person or in one of the many orthodontic Facebook groups. I don’t think there is an unusually high concentration of recipients in the circles I frequent but these award winners have a way of making themselves known and noticeable to the point of being impossible to ignore. While I do know of exceptions, generally the Trilogy of symptoms that are practically pathognomonic for an award winner are:

1) A small or struggling practice (acknowledged or not)

2) An unbridled assurance of one’s correctness when it comes to any topic (usually coupled with a complete lack of achievement or even experience in said area of “expertise”)

3) A total inability to reconcile the difference between how they KNOW things SHOULD be and how things are in reality when it comes to practice size, patient satisfaction, financial success, etc. (other than to claim others must be lying, cheating and stealing if they are doing more or better)

Now, I will admit that many orthodontists, especially residents and young docs, can fall into these same traps and develop symptoms that mimic the Award Trilogy. I certainly had my fair share of unmerited overconfidence early on and it cost me dearly! However, I’ve had enough first hand interaction with and confirmed sightings of award winners surpassing all others in displaying the Award Trilogy to be convinced there is something to this association that seems to rise to the level of causation.

Why does it matter and why am I being so mean to these poor award winners? I’m trying to make a broader point that what we did in high school, college, dental school and orthodontic residency is irrelevant and has no bearing on our clinical competence or business acumen. Zero. The sooner we get this through our collective heads, the better.

I know you are proud of your academic accomplishments but dentists resent you for it, patients don’t know or care (because the AAO refuses to do what it takes to educate them) and you didn’t learn much in school that’s of use in the real world other than learning how to learn. You certainly needed your degrees and certificate but your academic laurels are nothing to rest upon, your Graber Award is no rainmaker and, honestly, being an orthodontic specialist is worth less and less every day. The better you did in residency, the harder it will be for you to come to grips with this reality and get over yourself so you can learn what you need to know to succeed.

So, going back to my original point and the title of this article, those of you who were “the best in the country” in residency have a severe handicap to overcome if you want to do well in life and business. I’m sorry you’ve been hobbled with this burden but I do hope you can see your award for what it is and get beyond it. It’s ironic that overachievement in residency is such an impediment for the vast majority of award recipients. Such is life. We all have burdens to bear!


(1) Or your Milo Hellman Award

10 thoughts on “Nobody Gives A Sh*t About Your Graber Award (1)

  1. Thanks for sharing Ben! I look forward to these. Good length, good info, many things people think but don’t want to say, easy to relate, reality checks. I’d trade all of my AJODO mags (even the ones still in the plastic piling up my inbox or under an uneven table leg) for your articles. Hope you have fun writing them!

  2. Thanks for saying so Matt! I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts. I have a lot of fun stirring the pot and trying to get people to think differently.

  3. Thanks so much for the advice.
    I take it you’re an award winner or just missed?
    I don’t think this was broad at all. I feel I was very specific in this piece. If you’re an award winner and don’t get it, well, you are helping me prove my point. Thanks!

  4. Ben – I’m genuinely curious as to how this has come up in conversation so many times for you to feel so strongly about the issue. As an award winner, I don’t recall EVER discussing it in the 10 years since. You’re right – no one cares. They do care, though, in feeling comfortable in that they’re going to someone who’s smart and who cares about them. If I were a new grad award winner right now, I may be more tempted to play up the significance of the award to lend credibility to myself and my background in light of all the for profit ortho programs popping up. Do you think any award winners will be coming out of the new Atlanta program any time soon?? Food for thought. I appreciate all the time and thought you put into this column and the MKS forum.

  5. Janice, your question is a good one. I too have long been curious how these awards and their winners have come up so often! I don’t know if you noticed, but I tend to be a bit controversial so the best I can figure is that I attract award winners because of the positions I take and the titles I choose. It seems to me that the award winners want to set me straight by and large and attempt do so publicly whenever possible. I’ve had some run ins in the past with award winners but in the last 8 months there have been quite a few assertive folks who have shared their wisdom and insight with me aggressively and when I looked into them (as I always do because I love to learn about people and their motivations) it turned out they were award winners. After several in a row, I started paying attention and once I started paying attention, I could spot award winners before looking at their bios! That’s when I knew I wasn’t imagining things and that there was a pattern. These folks are extremely smart and did very well in school and they tend to think that translates into real world success and gravitas in the ortho groups. It usually doesn’t but that doesn’t stop them.
    All that being said, I also have some friends who happen to be award winners. One of them is a self made man who literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps, worked his ass off and is very successful in life and business. That Milo Hellman winner is one of my favorite people in the world and a personal hero for many, many reasons! The point of this article was that no one cares about our schooling and awards and that believing that these things matter is an impediment to our success. I thought I stated that pretty clearly in this piece but sometimes I don’t communicate as well as I think I do. I will keep working on it!
    Also, I’ll let you in on a little secret… The best writers are able to grab the reader by the shirt collar and demand their attention in a sea of options with their content, subject matter, style and well selected titles. I’m not to that level yet but I’ve practiced for years and am getting better all the time. I work hard at my craft! In that context, you might suspect that I chose this topic and this title to get people to pay attention because I knew it would be controversial – if you think about it, “Nobody Cares About Your Degree” just doesn’t have the same impact. If you look at my body of work here on OrthoPundit, you might notice a pattern when it comes to the titles.
    Janice, I’m so glad you took the time to share your insight and thoughts. You accomplished a great thing and should be proud of your award as well as your degrees. Hell, I’m honestly proud of you and admire what you’ve done. The problem is that I’m not your target demographic!

  6. AMEN!!! I’ve never been an award winner (academically, that is), never cared and never felt that it would have played any role in the success that I’ve achieved since leaving dental school 24 years ago. That said, I know of MANY award winners who have amazing, financially successful practices, but the differentiating factor is that they never bragged about it. Their award was simply an extension of their attention to detail in everything they did, which translated into them bringing the same attention to their business and practice lives.
    BTW-your title isn’t entirely fair. Their faculty give a sh*t and we all know how much of a role that plays in becoming a successful orthodontist (read sarcasm).

  7. This was a very good article. Those of us who have won awards tend to think those awards are indicative of our general intelligence….but that is not what the awards measure. The awards measure our ability to absorb the lessons we are taught and to spit back that information. To be molded in the images of the academics who teach us, not realizing that being an academic is not our aspiration.

    We love to be told how smart we are, and our greatest fear is doing something that makes us look “stupid”. It nullifies the identity we worked so hard to build. Yet it hobbles our chances for future success, since without risks there can be no great successes.

    It isn’t that winning awards hobbles us. It is that the type of person who wins awards is hobbled by his/her personality – the personality that absorbs external messages and internalizes them to form a personality dependent on the opinions of others. Overcoming that is the greatest challenge of the “award winner,” IMHO.

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