The Roanoker - July/August 2017 - 57
DENTISTRY | LOOKING BACK
I BOUGHT THE PRACTICE of Dr. John Mingledorff when I returned to
Roanoke in 1983. He had been in practice for 42 years. His office space was 200
square feet, located on Crystal Spring Avenue. There were two treatment rooms
and a tiny waiting room. Patients sat with their knees practically touching each
other. There was no private office or lunch room.
The equipment was from the 1950s but it worked and I used it. He was very kind
and generous during our discussions about taking over the practice. I had completed
a hospital-based General Dentistry Residency program in Baltimore.
We wondered if being a woman would be a problem for his patients. Dr. Lynn
Robinson was a classmate in dental school and came back to Roanoke to join her father's practice. She was the first woman to practice in Roanoke. I would be the first
woman to be in practice by herself.
As I found out, being a woman was not a big issue. Being young was the problem.
I didn't just look like their daughter; I looked like their grand-daughter. Many of Dr.
Mingledorff's patients were of his generation. The bank wanted my father to co-sign
the business loan. I left the banker's office absolutely sure I was not going to do that.
How dare he think I wasn't going to be successful! I was naïve in the ways of business.
I ended up working with an accountant who developed a business plan that was
acceptable and I got the loan on my own. Prime interest rate was a little over 20
percent at the time. I could only afford to pay back interest for the first 12 months.
That has been my license plate for many years. It joined
the two parts of my life which are, besides family, most
important to me. I started running regularly after moving
back to Roanoke. I met my husband at a race. We were
both involved in the running and racing community for
years. Gary noticed that I knew a lot of other dentists at
races. I realized a high percentage of dentists ran.
I think there are two explanations. First, dentistry is a
much more physically demanding job than people think.
Much more than I thought going into this profession. We
are moving from patient to patient. When we sit down, we
find ourselves in awkward positions, struggling at times to
see into this tiny mouth that is our work space. Neck and
back problems are common among dentists. Keeping our
body strong helps to combat workplace injuries. Second,
as much as running is good for my body, it is even better
for my brain. Physical activity is a well-accepted form of
As mentioned elsewhere in this piece, many dentists
I HAD WANTED TO BE A DENTIST since about 10th grade, when I attended a
"wear all of the hats." Dentists tend to be perfectionists,
career day with some seniors I looked up to. We went to the VWCC Dental program
for assistants and hygienists. It occurred to me that I wanted to be in this field and I
wanted to be the boss.
My parents put a great deal of value on education. I am one of six children. My
father was middle management with N&W. We came from St. Louis in 1966 when
the Wabash Railroad merged with Norfolk & Western Railway. My mother was a
homemaker. How they managed to send us all to Roanoke Catholic School, I will
never understand. I know my parents made tremendous sacrifices for our education. They instilled a strong work ethic. I knew I could do anything I wanted. I
never doubted I could be successful.
I had no role model of a woman dentist who owned her own practice. Dr. Mingledorff
and I sent out a letter to his patients introducing me. He encouraged them to call and make
appointments. Patients did call! They called to make their regular six-month appointments.
In those first months, I saw maybe one to three patients a day. I usually had a patient
at 8 a.m. and then not another until 3 p.m. In between I read journals and text books and
drank coffee. I had only one employee. Slowly we built the practice.
No one advertised at that time. The growth was all word-of-mouth. I had many
patients who worked at Roanoke Memorial Hospital (now Carilion). Dr. Bud
Conklin, the founder of the Carilion Care Clinic, was a mentor. Since I had completed a hospital residency, he was comfortable sending me patients with special
needs. These were patients who had complex medical conditions or who may have
completed therapy for head and neck cancers.
I added another assistant in the second year and began to plan a move to a larger
office. In 1989, I moved just two doors down to the corner of Crystal Spring Avenue and McClanahan. The new space gave me room to expand and update the
equipment. I had a dental hygienist join the staff. As I continued to gain experience with the technical side of dentistry,
I soon realized that as dentists we are not trained to be business managers. I had
not a clue about how to run a business. I had basic help with my accounting but
and want to be 100-percent for every patient who sits in
our chairs each day. We are driven to excel. All of the decision making and problem solving rests on our shoulders
every day, all of the time. We take our problems home at
night whether we are concerned about patients or staff.
People often ask me about the accepted statistic that
there are high suicide rates among dentists. I don't know
what study started that belief. I do know that we have lost
at least four dentists in the Roanoke Valley to suicide over
the past decade or so. I lost a personal friend a few years
ago. She was a beautiful talented young woman with a
successful dental practice in Kansas.
I know running has provided for me the time to let my
brain relax. Running races provided goals to engage my
competitive side. Training for a marathon demands attention to structure outside of work. It is healthy to have a life
outside of the office. -SA
Sandra Andrew and husband Gary Adkins pause after a
10K race in Richmond.
JULY/AUGUST 2017 | 57