Inside Dentistry
January 2018
Volume 14, Issue 1

Seattle Study Club Celebrates 25 Years of its Annual Symposium

Symposium brings together 40 top speakers for interactive education

Close your eyes and picture the following: You’re seated in a ballroom at the Ritz Carlton waiting for the opening session of the Seattle Study Club Symposium to begin. Suddenly the lights dim as you turn to see the ballroom doors open, revealing what appears to be a shiek astride an enormous camel. You gape in astonishment as the camel lumbers to the stage and then kneels to allow his passenger to alight. The shiek silently turns to face the audience and slowly lifts his veil to reveal his identity—Dr Morton Amsterdam. The crowd erupts in shocked recognition.

Bizaare dream? You’d be forgiven for thinking so, but this scene was witnessed by several hundred members of the Seattle Study Club network in January 2000. Like the educational sessions that take place during the week-long annual Symposium, its purpose was in part to snap people out of their daily routines, to expose them to new people and new perspectives. Its relentless focus on continuing education as a powerful force for change is just one of the reasons the Seattle Study Club has thrived for more than 30 years.

For the Seattle Study Club's 25th Annual Symposium, founder Michael Cohen, DDS, MS, set out to enlist 25 of the best speakers ever to have graced the stage at the club's events. He reached out to 41 people, hoping that at least 25 would say yes. To Cohen's surprise, all but one invitee agreed to present, giving the club a “Top 40” for its event in La Quinta, California (January 15-20).

“I am very honored that the way I feel about these individuals has been reciprocal in the way that they feel about me, the Seattle Study Club, and what it represents in the world of continuing dental education,” Cohen says. “I have never made the selection of individuals for the podium political. It is about the education and prestige of the speaker, who must practice high-level dentistry and be a great teacher. The speaker needs to present reality—failure along with success. Those speakers have risen to the top. They recognize that they are speaking to an audience of individuals who are there, not merely to acquire CE credits, but because they truly want to learn.”

Cohen started his own study club in 1977, but he says the first 10 years were “an exercise in frustration.” His goal was to elevate the level of diagnosis and treatment planning in the community, but there was not much interest from others.

A turning point came in 1987 when Cohen invited a patient to a club meeting and divided attendees into teams to interview the patient and develop diagnoses and treatment plans. “We had great discussions,” he says. “Forty-five minutes after the meeting, people were still in the parking lot debating the case.”

Cohen realized that many of his peers had not had an opportunity to benefit from collaborating and interacting with their colleagues since dental school.

“At that point, I decided that collaboration was the true value of the study club,” Cohen explains. “I offered more programs with clinical interaction, and suddenly, people were very interested. This interest continued to increase until we eventually had a waiting list.”

In the early 1990s, Cohen began working with colleagues in other parts of the country to develop a network of similar clubs, starting in Northern California. As word spread and interest grew around the country, Cohen was careful to only associate with like-minded dentists.

“It was similar to starting a dental practice,” he says. “Many employees do not work out, but you find one or two great employees and model your practice after them. In this case, I interviewed individuals on the phone and made sure that they were interested for the right reasons and that they truly cared about the other dentists in their communities and the level of care they wanted to provide.”

During the past 25 years, the Seattle Study Club network has grown to include more than 250 clubs around the world, and continues to grow with new clubs starting every month. Cohen notes that the clubs are in existence for an average of 13 to 14 years and have an attrition rate of only 2%.

“Continuing education is available online, and there are lectures given everywhere, but where can dentists get a true understanding of what they are learning?” Cohen says. “We offer that with these interactive treatment planning sessions, sitting in a room with other clinicians. When you think a case should be treated a certain way, and then you hear your peers present various reasons why it should be treated a different way, it is very powerful. This is how you learn.”

Cohen says the Seattle Study Club has continued to grow by accepting constructive criticism and enhancing the resources that it offers to its clubs. He says it will continue to operate that way into the future.

“We offer new programs every year so the programming remains relevant,” he says. “We will continue to do this in a way that is apolitical and based simply on excellence and quality of education.”

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