Catherine Tepavcevic, RDH
I would like you to meet Douglas Owen Weidman, DDS, a legendary dentist, but an even more legendary human. He was so special that I have to let the world know about him.
There are the dentists that advertise how great they are, and then there are the modest ones who truly make a permanent impact on your life and their patients’ lives, the ones you can never forget. I was blessed to have had the chance to work for such an amazing soul for more than 10 years.
If you want to hear about one of the nicest humans I have ever met or you’re an employer wondering how to get the best from your employees and not have a high employee turnover, please read on.
It was August of 1999, and after five exhausting years of working for dentists who were arrogant and intimidating, I was ready to throw in the towel and give up on dentistry completely. It didn’t make me feel happy or fulfilled anymore.
I promised myself to try one more time. If the next dentist was the same, then I would change careers permanently. I arrived early for a 2 p.m. interview to find the door to the office was locked. I decided to walk back down the long hallway and wait on a bench next to the elevators.
As I started heading back to the elevators, I saw a group of smiling women with this tall man in the middle of all of them laughing and talking as they were walking through the hallway. I looked up at the tall man and saw the kindest looking blue eyes I have ever seen in my life. In my head I thought, “Please, God, let that be the dentist who will interview me, because everyone looks just so darn happy.” I continued down the hall and peeked from behind the wall just to see if they would walk into the office, and sure enough they did! I had no clue that this day would impact my life and change my outlook on dentistry forever.
From the first day I started working for him, I couldn’t believe his kindness. He was so nice, almost too nice to be true. He was always smiling, happy, and kind. He never got truly angry or yelled at anyone. Hugs were very common in his office, whether it was from happy patients or him hugging you for a job well done. I was leery, waiting for him to show his bad side one day, but he never did. The longer I worked there the more I realized, wow, there actually is a dentist who truly cares about both his staff and patients! It felt like a dream.
We weren’t treated like his employees; we were treated like his equals. There was not an ounce of arrogance in him. He was just a modest and gentle soul. Best of all, he treated us like family. Every time I called him Dr. Weidman he would say, “Oh Cathy, please just call me Doug.”
Dentistry wasn’t a job for him, it was his passion, and it showed in every single restoration he took his time to craft like an artist. He took his time on every patient: he explained what needed to be done, gave them options, and drew diagrams so they could fully understand what he was going to do. While he was working, he would explain everything he was doing to both his assistants and the patient. He would say, “With knowledge comes power. The more you educate the patients, the more they will appreciate what you are doing for them, and they will be more likely to succeed in maintaining their oral health. I’m not here to just fix their teeth and send them home. I want their teeth to stay fixed.”
He would stay up late at night looking at the patient’s x-rays so he could craft the perfect treatment plan. His dentistry was a work of art. His restorations not only looked perfect, but they lasted 30-plus years. Our lab techs would often say that they didn’t know if they can make the permanents look anywhere near as good as his temporaries. It was common to see patients leaving the office with happy tears streaming down their face, after he changed their smiles with his full-mouth rehabs.
He never recommended a treatment that would make him the most money; he was honest and ethical to the core. He only recommended the most beneficial treatment for the patient, even if it would mean more work and less money for him.
He never overbooked himself or his staff. He would always say “The only stress in dentistry is not giving yourself or your staff enough time to do the best and most ethical job for your patients.” He would come to work on Monday mornings with a huge vibrant smile and say, “I am so happy to be back to work with all of you wonderful people. I couldn’t wait to see all of your lovely faces again.” How could you ever have a bad Monday when your boss starts it off with a sentence like that? It made you feel appreciated and truly happy to be at work. He went above and beyond for every single employee. He never acted like a true “boss,” but he had everyone’s respect and admiration.
I don’t know how he did it, maybe it was because we felt his love, compassion, and kindness toward both us and his patients. How could you not respect a human like that? We didn’t only respect him, but we were inspired to work even harder and just pray that you made his day a little easier or worked up to his high standards, like he did for you. While other dentists made me feel degraded or intimidated, he made me feel inspired to be the best I can be. Every week, instead of telling you what you did wrong, he would end the week with telling you how grateful he was for working with you, and even though we all made mistakes from time to time, he would point out everything you did that was “amazing” in his eyes. He focused more on out attributes rather than our downside. I found myself working harder and happier than I ever did.
One year, we all had a rough time. He was planning on going on vacation with his wife to relax. He came to work one day and said, “We’ve all had a pretty rough year, and I can’t wait to go on vacation, but how could I ever enjoy my vacation knowing all of you have had a rough year also?” So he paid for hotel and airfare for one week in Puerto Vallarta to whoever wanted to go.
Once, when I had a minor surgery, he was vacationing with his wife in Boston. They found the address where I was recouping and actually took the time to send me flowers and a card with an inspirational message. When I was being tested for autoimmune disorders, I felt extreme stress. He bought me multiple inspirational books from different gurus. His favorite was Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh, of which he had extras of in his office so he could distribute them to patients he felt needed inspiration also. Not only did he care about their teeth, he cared about their souls.
He even took me to my first yoga class, which became my saving grace while enduring all the autoimmune tests and waiting. He bought me my first-ever computer for my birthday. He inspired me to finish hygiene school and spent time helping me whenever I didn’t understand chemistry, anatomy, etc.
When I was deathly afraid of giving injections, he spent an hour on the phone with me, calming me down and teaching me his painless injection techniques. He taught me everything I know from dentistry, to yoga, to being a good human. I constantly find myself repeating his words and phrases which help me have a great rapport with my patients.
He did something special, not just for me, but each employee, depending on their specific needs and circumstances. We were all taken care of and never had to worry about a thing with him around, not just financially but emotionally as well. All of us had three weeks of paid vacation, and six paid personal/sick days. There was never one day in 10 years that I was unpaid if for whatever reason I couldn’t make it to work, which is forgotten by many dentists these days. He never forgot to give all of us a card or gift for our birthdays, Secretary’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas. He gave all of us four-digit Christmas bonuses, along with a Christmas party at a fancy restaurant in downtown Chicago, or we would celebrate with him and his wife at their house. They would either order an amazing dinner or have a professional chef cook for us. Afterwards, we would sit next to their Christmas tree cracking up at each other’s white elephant gifts and talk about life and love. These are just a few things he did for us. If I wrote them all, I would have to write a book.
Let me tell you about his wife. She was not your typical “dentist’s wife.” You truly couldn’t figure out who is nicer, her or him? They were both equally down to Earth and amazing. The cutest couple you could ever meet, they had been married since their early 20s and complimented each other well. She always had a beautiful smile on her face and always welcomed all of us into their home with open arms, whether it was for a dinner or a “puppy shower” for their new puppy. Yes, we got to go meet their new puppy in the middle of our workday! He blocked out the afternoon schedule and we were paid while eating lunch with his wife and playing with their puppy. They treated their dogs so well, we used to joke with Dr. Weidman and say, “In my next life, I wish to be a Weidman dog.” Absolutely everyone in his life was treated special, whether it be dogs or humans.
He was so proud of and talked about his three sons all the time. We would hear stories about all of their accomplishments, or just downright funny things they did to make their dad laugh. They were his life! He didn’t work Saturdays so he could coach little league and spend time with his family. I have no clue how he had the energy to balance it all with how demanding dentistry is, but he did it with ease.
When he retired, he stayed an extra six months just so he could say goodbye to each and every patient. He couldn’t leave without giving them a good ole Weidman bear hug. He was a six foot four, a gentle giant. He gave love and was loved in return. He was kind, charismatic, funny, full of life and love! A one in a million, not just as a boss, but as human. A dental legend and human angel.
RIP, sweet Douglas Owen Weidman, DDS. You will be so, so, so missed but never ever forgotten.
Catherine Tepavcevic, RDH
Catherine Tepavcevic, RDH, has over 26 years of experience in all aspects of the dental field. She currently works in private practice, implementing nonsurgical protocols in order to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients with various periodontal issues. She educates with a strategic view of periodontal issues and has an ability to communicate them clearly to patients. A graduate of the College of Lake County, she was honored with the Academic Excellence Award for having the highest clinic and academic grades in her class. Through sharing her knowledge and experience with patients, she helps them realize that prevention is the key to optimum oral health. She makes a great effort to make all of her patients feel that a visit to the dentist can be a positive experience.