By Juliet Farmer
Dr. Robert Edwin Meister is an orthodontist in Laguna Hills and Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., where he has been in private practice since 1985. Dr. Meister was an undergrad at Loma Linda University, Riverside, and went on to attend Loma Linda University School of Dentistry (LLUSD), where he earned his doctor of dental surgery (DDS) in 1978. He went back to Loma Linda University Graduate School, where he received his master’s degree in orthodontics in 1984.
Dr. Meister is Invisalign certified and has been an Invisalign preferred provider since 2009, the same year he received his soft tissue diode laser certification. Dr. Meister was an associate professor at the LLUSD graduate orthodontic clinic from 1993-1995. His professional memberships include California Association of Orthodontists, Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists, American Association of Orthodontists, and Loma Linda University School of Dentistry Alumni Association. He has been president of the Academy for Orthodontic Excellence Newport Beach since 2005, director of the board of directors Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontics since 2011, and on the 3M Unitek product evaluation panel since 2012. From 2008-2011, he was director of the board for the California Association of Orthodontics, and from 2011-2012, secretary of the board of directors for the same association.
When did you first decide to become an orthodontist? Why?
I first realized that I was interested in orthodontics when I was a junior in dental school. Those interested in learning more about orthodontics could sign up to work on some simple cases with an instructor during senior year. I was able to use a quad helix to correct a posterior crossbite in a child and use limited braces to upright a molar on an adult prior to having a bridge done.
How/why did you choose the school you went to?
To help direct me toward a good graduate program, I asked the director of the graduate orthodontic clinic for advice. He suggested that I evaluate the programs that were teaching early interceptive care with emphasis on growth and development. So I applied to UCLA, Loma Linda Univ. and the University of Texas.
What surprised you the most about your studies?
Like most things, orthodontics is more involved than it may appear on the surface. I was surprised at the amount of analysis and planning that goes into each orthodontic case. Since different facial types respond differently to treatment mechanics, each case is evaluated for facial growth pattern, bone support, root morphology, arch dimensions and form, and eruption sequence to determine the best time treat the case. The patient’s smile is evaluated to see if treatment can improve the esthetics of smile by enhancing arch width, incisal display and smile arch. Behind the scenes, research is ongoing to make the braces more comfortable, esthetic, and efficient in an effort to make treatment require less appointments.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become an
orthodontist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I feel that I have one of the greatest careers around. No, I am not curing cancer and I cannot make the kind of changes in peoples lives that some other careers can, but in a small way I can give someone confidence to face all the challenges of life without worrying about their smile–a smile says so much about someone and it is nice to be confident in your appearance.
Has being an orthodontist met your expectations? Why?
I am not the type of person that had a lot of expectations when I went into orthodontics. I knew that I wanted to be in private practice so I could be my own boss, but I did not “plan” that my practice would grow to a certain size or be limited to adults only. Nothing like that, I just let it happen and enjoyed taking care of the patient’s problems. There was not a master plan.
What do you like most about being an orthodontist?
That is hard to say because there is so much that I enjoy about it. I get a lot of satisfaction out of analyzing a problem, designing a plan to solve it and then making it happen. The end results of orthodontics are always fun and rewarding. The patient is thrilled to finally get their braces off, everyone raves about how great their smile looks, and I feel satisfaction that my plan created the results.
What do you like least about being an orthodontist?
Any time that you work with the public there is going to be a certain percentage of people that make your life difficult. The saying is that 10% of the people cause 90% of your problems. You need to learn a technique to deal with this 10% or else just let it go. Otherwise you will be very unhappy. Working largely with a group of people that seem to care very little about their oral hygiene can be discouraging at times. Parents that refuse to “man up” and be parents creates issues in my practice everyday. Having a treatment goal that requires patient compliance when the patient couldn’t care less tests your patience and coaching skills on a daily basis.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were
your options and why did you decide what you did?
Right out of school your options are: 1. Go into academics. 2. Work for a clinic. 3. Find an associate position, hopefully one that leads to a partnership. 4. Buy a practice that is for sale. 5. Start up from scratch. 6. Some combination of the above.
I started with the combo technique. Two days a week of clinic work, two days a week as an associate. Eventually, the orthodontist across the street wanted to sell me his practice. An associate position soon turned into a partnership and before you know it, I was in the private practice format that I wanted.
Describe a typical day at work.
My typical day starts with a brief staff “huddle” to share communication about the patients that are coming in that day. The first two hours of the morning are busy as we are trying to see as many patients as possible before school gets going. Mid mornings are reserved for longer banding appointments and I often have a fair amount of free time to get caught up on case diagnosis and paperwork. Lunch can be personal time or can be for meeting with a patient’s dentist to review cases and just to meet new doctors. The early afternoon usually has a light patient load as school is still in process. At 3 p.m. the bus unloads and my patient load is maxed out. This time is reserved for short adjustments so as many appointments are available as possible. My typical day consist of 45 to 65 patients depending on the procedures that are scheduled. Many orthodontists see more patients, but this is the pace that I like to work at.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you
sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I am in the office usually 32 to 34 hours a week. That does not include mutual assistance meetings, study club meeting, continuing education courses, staff management, office errands, marketing efforts, or work done at home. Running a small business takes more time than working for someone else. I strive to get eight hours of sleep per night and usually get close to that. Weekends I may get more if I am lazy on Saturday or Sunday morning. I probably take four to five weeks of vacation each year. Throw in some long weekends and that is my vacation picture. Remember you are the boss so you can take as much time as you want, but you are not making any revenue when you are out of the office. And your bills never take a vacation. It never feels like a paid vacation because your collections always suffer.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Is anyone ever totally satisfied with his or her income? Doesn’t everyone really want to make more money? You have to ask yourself what you have to give up to make more money. Is it family time, your ethics? You have to decide what you want out of life. You will have a good lifestyle but there are other careers that generate more income. Would I like to have more funds on my retirement account? Sure, I would love to retire earlier or have a more comfortable retirement, but as a whole I have no regrets.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial
I took out both government sponsored loans and loans from private individuals. I felt a deep responsibility to repay those loans. Would I have loved to have that money to use for my “want” list? Absolutely, but not repaying the loans was not an option.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to
yourself 10 years ago?
Several things I’m sure. First, know that tougher times will come during your career. Plan for them. You will likely have one, if not two, recessions during your working career. We tend to set our business goals for annual growth and think that growth is the norm. But at some point the business will take a downturn. Plan on how you are going to deal with this and react quickly. Have this plan in place. Secondly, save more and save early. Having financial reserves gives you options in good times and bad. There is nothing worse that feeling that you do not have options and that you are not in control and feel forced to go in a particular direction.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were
Listen better, ask more questions, absorb more, and immerse myself more. There is so much to know, the sooner you can learn the basics, the sooner you can more up to the more advanced stuff.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Insurance companies are out of control. Health care costs are increasing at a rate that I wonder if the “average Joe” will be able to afford insurance. That being said, I do not want the federal government to take over health care. I have zero confidence that the government can do a better job. This is a major problem.
Where do you see orthodontics in 10 years?
Orthodontics is making significant progress on several fronts. Braces on the inside of the teeth are making a comeback and intra-oral scanners are making that easier and more accurate. Invisalign may make braces as the main technique for getting your teeth straight a thing of the past. 3-D imaging data can take you from the initial exam appointment to custom-made braces seamlessly. That makes the process of getting your teeth straight faster, easier, and hopefully less expensive.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
Many years ago I decided to get involved with continuing education for orthodontists and have run a study club for orthodontist in Southern California for many years. More recently I got involved in the politics of orthodontics and volunteer for the governing boards for both the California Assoc. of Orthodontics and the Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontics.
How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
I love having fun away from the office. My whole family enjoys skiing/snowboarding during the winter. In warmer weather I golf, mountain bike, and stand up paddle board. I get into the gym some but not as much as I should.
Do you have family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with
them? How do you balance work and life?
Yes, I am married and have two sons and a daughter. When the kids were young, my policy was to come home at the end of seeing patients and spend time with the kids. This usually was dinner and homework time. Once the kids were in bed and if I still had any energy left, then I would pull out office work and spend some time getting caught up. Now the kids are out of the house, so there is more “home time” to do office paperwork.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in
pursuing orthodontics as a career?
Orthodontics is a fabulous career. Working for yourself has big pluses and big minuses. You need to know both list and be comfortable with them. I think the pluses far outweigh the minuses, but I like being the one calling the shots. Strictly my opinion.