The Magic of Symposium

At this year’s Symposium, we exercised a muscle that for many of us was weak from underuse—our business acumen. Four days of stimulating mental workouts on all things business had our hearts pumping and the endorphins flowing. Yet, as always, the magic that made the experience so powerful was the opportunity for building and strengthening relationships with friends old and new who are on the same wavelength—all totally engaged in absorbing important information that they would not normally be exposed to. Shortly after returning home, we received the following letter from a longtime director and coordinator (who also happens to be his wife). If you’ve ever attended Symposium, you’ll instantly relate to Greg and Lisa Boice’s eloquent message. If you haven’t, you might gain a sense of how life-changing the experience can be.

Dear SSC Friends,

It’s been a little over a week since our club received the “Vince Kokich Study Club of the Year” award. It took me totally by surprise, and now I am a little worried at how well Lisa keeps a secret. While I may have fantasized about our club winning this award, I didn’t seriously think we would, as there are so many great clubs and directors. I am truly grateful, honored, and humbled that the Seattle Study Club has selected St. Helens Shadow Study Club. Please excuse what I may have babbled on stage. I am not exactly sure what I said, but it came from my heart. The following is what I would have said if I had prepared and had unlimited time.

About 21 years ago in the spring of 1998, Michael and Greg traveled to Eugene, OR to meet with a group of oral surgeons and presented the SSC model and philosophy. The message was so strong that 5 of us present decided to make the leap of faith and start clubs. Three of those clubs are still vibrant today: Alpha Omega with Marv Johnson and Tommy Kolodge, Exploring Excellence with Tim Welch, and ours. 

I was really having trouble coming up with a name for our new club; I just couldn’t find one I liked. The summer before our Kickoff Dinner, I traveled to Germany to visit friends I had made there while serving in the Army. During breakfast my host was reading the morning paper, which coincidentally carried a report that Mt. St. Helens was experiencing tremors indicating that the volcano may erupt again. Hannes put down his paper, and in his German-accented English said “How does it feel to live in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens?”—and our unusual name was born.

We sent out invitations and I was surprised that we had 22 people sign up for that first year. We followed the formula in the “Brown Book” and “began to muddle through our first year.” I wasn’t planning to go to the 1999 Symposium, “Head, Heart, Hand” until Greg called me up and more or less guilted me into coming. At the time I didn’t know how great a favor Greg was doing for me personally and our club in general. I didn’t stay at the Ritz in West Palm but up the beach in some dive motel that probably has washed into the Atlantic by now (or at least it should have). On the first morning I took the trolley to the Ritz, and as soon as I walked through the portal and into the meeting my life and that of our club forever changed for the better.

Now, I had attended a lot of meetings in my life—ADA in Honolulu, AAOMS in San Francisco, numerous conferences all over western Europe, including some in upscale resort destinations—but this was different. As I walked in, a string ensemble was playing classical music, Jane personally greeted me and gave me my registration packet with my upscale bag and blue logo–inscribed “work shirt.” High-end vendors lined the reception area, and there was one of the best breakfast buffets I had ever seen. The first 5 minutes were putting all past meeting experiences to shame, and that was just the beginning. The European masters, whose articles I had read, presented along with cutting-edge speakers from the US. The quality of the presentations and the AV was beyond anything I had previously experienced. And everybody, including the prestigious speakers, was so approachable at this meeting. The welcome cocktail party made an indelible memory for me: It was held at the famous Flagler Museum, featured several musical performers, and had fantastic food flown in from Seattle. The whole atmosphere was something I had never witnessed. The people I met throughout the meeting were so welcoming and began to make me feel like a part of the group.

I was so star-struck after that first meeting, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. It was so far beyond anything I expected. I just knew I wanted desperately to have our club become a part of it. 

During the first year we held our “normal” meetings in our waiting room and office, and Lisa and I would run out and get pizza and beer. Our headliner speakers during the first year were Gerard Chiche and Fred Ebsworth, shared with a couple of Portland clubs. When Michael came to talk with us, we put him up in a second-rate motel with a room next to an elevator, and we held our meeting in the basement of our local hospital with lunch from the cafeteria. We didn’t have a good treatment planning case, but Michael still made it a meeting like none of our members had ever seen. 

I continued to go to SSC symposia—“Journey from One to One World” in Palm Springs and “Metamorphosis” in Seattle, with that fantastic brochure and The Rippingtons in concert and the talk by the Holocaust survivor. We were beginning slowly to understand what the Seattle Study Club was about.

I think the club turned a corner at that Symposium and really began to understand what SSC was about and what our local club could become.

It wasn’t until the 2002 meeting, “Legends,” that I finally brought Lisa along with me. She insisted we stay at the Ritz. (Lisa never has problems spending money when she believes it is well spent, while I will admit to being a little on the cheap side. Fortunately, Lisa almost always wins out.) That was a truly memorable meeting: the first for Lisa, a large contingent attending from our club, the venue, the location, Willie K, and I could go on. With Lisa’s encouragement and the members in attendance, I think the club turned a corner at that Symposium and really began to understand what SSC was about and what our local club could become.

The members began to take ownership. We moved our meetings to the Heathman Lodge, probably the best meeting venue in the entire Portland metro area. We began to have an open bar during the meetings, a great food buffet. We decreased the number of meetings we shared so the members could have closer interaction with internationally recognized speakers. We upped our brochure. Lisa began to go to the Coordinators conferences and I to the Directors Summit meetings. The club began to provide greater quality and value to our members, and the members began to provide better value to their patients and the team members of their practices. The members became friends. They felt they were a part of a prestigious and select organization. They had pride. 

Lisa and Greg Boice at the 2012 Seattle Study Club Symposium.

The reputation of the club grew. We were getting quality members without recruiting. We had board-certified members in all the specialties except pathology and radiology. We even had one member with a PhD in metallurgical engineering. In a club run by oral surgeons, we had three board-certified periodontists. We grew to around 45 members. I think we had the largest club contingent at the 2008 Maui meeting. We were cruising.

Then the Recession happened. Vancouver (WA) was hit particularly hard. A few of our key members retired and the tuition was perceived as a challenge for some. Even with recruiting, our numbers dwindled to the low 20s. We decided within the club to stay true to our values. We would continue to have first-class meetings and trim where we could. We would hold some meetings in our building at our office and two other offices—and our “Three Ring Circus” meeting was born. Lisa negotiated with our venue for a lower price. We started the Hygiene Study Club. We sought out new up-and-coming talent with lower honorariums. And the tough part—we cut our bar to just beer and wine. 

The reason we started our club is no longer the reason we continue the club. Marketing and getting more patient referrals to our practice was a major reason we made the effort of starting and keeping the club going. The club was effective at doing this. But as the years went by, this seemed to be less important. The reward of seeing a meeting go well, the appreciation of the members, the friendships made, interacting with great leaders in our profession, and making a positive difference to our dental community—these are the things that keep us going. 

From left to right, Ed Leung, Julie Jang, and Lisa and Greg Boice at the 2016 Seattle Study Club Symposium.

Today our numbers have crept up toward 40 again, but the character of our club has changed. We are a much younger club. Four of our members come from DSOs. We have 33% women dentists. Our hygiene club has grown to 60 and we have had to turn away new members. We have dentist members from all across the US: from Maryland to Hawaii, Minnesota to Arizona, and many points in between. We have an international flair with backgrounds from China, Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Austria, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Canada. We have divergent political philosophies and religions. Yet we all come together trying to take our practices and lives to the next level, sharing our knowledge with each other in an unfettered manner.

I mentioned that a number of our members have retired over the years, but we have an emeritus program where any retired member can come to a meeting and pay only a nominal meal charge, and a number of these frequently attend. Lisa knows these guys. One of our emeritus members loves (loves) bread pudding, so during the holidays Lisa makes sure it is one of the desserts. I guess for supposed health reasons, the hotel has stopped letting us take home leftover food, so Lisa brings her own Tupperware to sneak out bread pudding for this member—to the mortification of his daughter, who is an active member. I like to use this as an example of the attention and care we give all our members. 

We all come together trying to take our practices and lives to the next level, sharing our knowledge with each other in an unfettered manner.

Lisa and I have not yet turned our horses to the sunset, but the sun is past its zenith. Martin and Edwin are taking ever more leadership in directing. We have a new coordinator, Andrea, who has taken over the day-to day-functions and is doing a fantastic job. I see our club getting even better and thriving.

Michael, your kind personal gentle nudges and your fantastic vision for this organization have changed our lives. The Seattle Study Club—through its continual service behind the scenes, with its fantastic, loyal, and caring staff, and then the whole philosophy on display during Symposium—has shown us how to have the courage to reach out and take chances and most of all, how to live fully.  

Heartfelt thanks,
Greg and Lisa Boice

Learn about the upcoming Seattle Study Club Symposium.