The president of the Rhode Island Dental Association, Dr. Jennifer Torbett, on career goals, practice consultants and why list making is everything.

As Told to Kristie Ceruti

AFTER GRADUATING FROM Salve Regina University, I was undecided on a career. Having observed in a local hospital one summer, I knew I didn’t want to pursue a career in medicine. The orthodontist for whom my mother worked offered me a job and convinced me to think about dental school. He saw something in me that I didn’t. I blinked, and was enrolled at Tufts.

STARTING LINEUP: Dr. Torbett and Rhode Island Dental Association colleagues—the current executive director (middle) and three past presidents—in Washington, D.C., last year

I purchased my practice in 2007, and was devastated by the recession in 2008. I needed to figure out how to remain viable in those economic times. I reached out to one of my reps and was connected with a practice consultant named Pam Rolle. I’ve been working with her for 10 years now, and it has turned my business around.

A common stumbling block is recognizing when to treat and when not to. As younger dentists, we think we can do it all. With experience and observation of failures, you learn—and this learning allows us to be better practitioners and work within realistic expectations for both the patient and the dentist.

My work ethic and integrity have aided in my success. Having an incredibly supportive husband allows me the opportunity to do what I do. My dental team is amazing; they make me a better dentist. One of the most [memorable] moments in my career wasn’t a plaque or title—it was when an esteemed colleague told me how well I’ve represented and served the profession of dentistry in Rhode Island. Coming from this dentist, that was quite an honor.

My colleagues are my inspiration. I’ve never looked at any of them as competition, but as sources of knowledge.

I’ve always been involved with organized dentistry. I started with participation in the [American Student Dental Association]. As I settled into Rhode Island and began to attend local component meetings, I was asked to serve as a trustee to my component. From there, I was asked to “work up the ladder.” It was a four-year commitment. I can’t believe I have only six months remaining.

I’m a very list-oriented person. I feel accomplished as I cross off that list. I wake up running, much to my family’s chagrin. I’m in constant motion, but I’ve realized I need to make time to recharge. I’ve also been better about delegating tasks to my dental team. This was difficult, but it has taken some of the self-imposed pressure off.

Restoring patients’ self-esteem is what keeps me passionate about the profession. My goal would be for dentists to be recognized as an integral part of treating the body as a whole. We have access to patients more frequently than most medical professionals, and many diseases manifest in the oral cavity. I’m passionate about honest dental care, about being a role model to my children and other dentists—and about maintaining and improving the relationships I have with my patients. •

Dr. Jennifer Torbett is the president of the Rhode Island Dental Association. A member of the 2013 Incisal Edge 40 Under 40, she owns and practices at Crestview Dental Associates in Westerly, Rhode Island. She and her husband live in nearby South Kingstown with their two children.