Profile: Dr. Derek Robison engineering a successful second career as a dentist

Up until now, folks would be hard pressed to come across a dentist with 15 years of experience as a Mechanical Engineer before donning his scrubs, but when you see Dr. Derek Robison at Dexter Family Dentistry, that’s exactly what you are getting –  a dentist with a meticulous sense for design. Custom crown anyone?

Dr. Robison started his practice in 2016 at the age of 42 after graduating from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. However, it wasn’t something he would have predicted for himself when he was submerged in his engineering studies at Ball State. But between having a curious mind and making friends with dentists along the way, he became one.

“I never in my life would have considered dentistry,” Dr. Robison said. “Or had considered dentistry, and even after I first met them (his dentist friends Dr. Kolb and Dr. Udrys) I was just asking a bunch of questions because I’m inquisitive in general.”

This quest began on a running trail of all places.

“We met through a mutual friend,” Dr. Kolb said (the lead dentist at Dexter Family Dentistry) “and we were basically going for runs. The other friend is a dentist, too and he invited Derek for some of our morning runs which we still do by the way. He would hear the other dentists and I talk about our careers and our joys and our problems and he became interested to the point where he actually decided to quit his job and go back to school and become a dentist.”

Before Dr. Robison started examining x-rays for cavities at Dexter Family Dentistry, Dr. Kolb brought him on as a consultant to apply Six-Sigma methodology skills he used as an engineer to improve the patient experience and business operations. Six Sigma is a disciplined, statistical-based, data-driven approach, and continuous improvement methodology for eliminating defects in a product, process or service. (MORE)

“Dr. Kolb actually came to me, and said, ‘Hey, I know you have some training in this, what do you think about coming to my office and taking a look around to see if there is anything we are doing that’s inefficient.’ So, I went in there, pre-dental school, and tried to evaluate the flow of the office, and the flow of patients through the office. We talked to the staff and asked what do you think the biggest issues are?”

Characteristic to the mind of an engineer, Dr. Robison was able to view things from a more compartmentalized perspective to pinpoint issues.

“It was really interesting for me to hear his perspective as an engineer prior to him learning anything about dentistry,” Dr. Kolb said “because he looked at the patient in our office as the product. And so if you can envision a supply chain or an assembly line as the product goes down this path, so what are the bottlenecks? And he looked at our office in that way and it was really eye opening because he was able to kind of disconnect from the dental part of it and just look at the facts and that was really helpful.”

As a dentist Dr. Robison continues to employ these flow strategies with patient awareness in mind.

“Everything is viewed through the eyes of the patient.” He says, “What is best for the patient? How can we make the patient experience the best? So that’s kind of how we evaluate projects, and that’s how we try to identify what we should be working on.”

Having a few years under his belt as a full-time dentist Dr. Robison remains enthusiastic about his new career.

“The most rewarding is the instance I get a chance to work with my hands”, he says, “ I like to be as good as possible at whatever I do, and so I feel like I get an opportunity to work with my hands and get instant feedback as to that particular project in that moment, that to me feels good. I like the sense of accomplishment, but that’s secondary with the bigger sense is that I can impact the patients in a good way.”

He’s also a realist and takes into consideration the notion that not everyone he sees wants to see him.

“Nobody likes to go to the dentist no matter how good the experience is,” he says. “There is nobody who really loves to come to the dentist and there’s a number of reasons why that might be, but it’s very seldom that somebody says, ‘I love being here’ it happens, but it’s pretty rare. So, I want patients to have the best experience possible. Not just me personally but as an office we want them to have a good experience, and being able to impact somebody’s experience and maybe when they walk out they say that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be for whatever reason, and I have a hand in that.”