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Since Dr. Thomas F. Schneider Jr. grew up in a family of dentists, dentistry is to him like a family business, in which each member of the family passes on a love for the profession to other family members. In 2022, Dr. Schneider will be serving as president of the Chicago Dental Society. In this interview with Dental Tribune International, he talks about his family members as dental mentors and discusses how he advanced to the role of president within the CDS.
Dr. Schneider, could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a bit about your background in dentistry?
I am a practicing periodontist on the Northwest Side of Chicago and have been practicing for the past 33 years. I received my dental training at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry in 1986 and completed my specialty training at Loyola University School of Dentistry in 1988. As well as being in full-time practice, I teach one day per week in the undergraduate periodontics clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Since you’ve dedicated over 30 years to dentistry, I think it is fair to say that it is your life’s passion. What led you to a career in dentistry, and are you still as involved in your work as a practicing periodontist now as you were three decades ago?
I was born into a family of dentists. My grandfather graduated from the Chicago College of Dental Surgery, later known as Loyola University School of Dentistry, in 1929 and taught there for the next 50 years. He became dean in 1956 and held the position for 17 years. My uncle also works in the field and is now a retired oral surgeon. My father was a periodontist, and when I graduated, I went into practice with him. He retired several years ago, and I took over his practice and continue working there to this day.
I am passionate about dentistry and have family members as mentors who have inspired me, so you can say that dentistry is a tradition in my family—a nod to the theme of the 2022 Midwinter Meeting, “A Dental Tradition”. Just like my family, the CDS is steeped in dental tradition, and this year, we will be hosting the 157th iteration of the event, which is one of the most important, longest-established traditions in organized dentistry.
You’ve been a member of the CDS since 1995 and served as president of your branch from 2002 to 2003. How do you feel about being elected as president of the CDS for 2022, and how much work and commitment does the role imply?
CDS is organized into nine branches, and I served as the president of my branch, the Northwest Side Branch, from 2002 to 2003. In 2022, I will serve as president of the broader organization.
There is a fairly extensive process to advance to the role of president within the organization. In all, it takes 13 years to reach the position of president, and the process includes serving in leadership positions within your branch and then on the Board of Directors. I’ve held numerous leadership positions with the Northwest Side Branch, and during these past four years, I served on the board and on several committees. Through the various positions I’ve held within the CDS, there have been many responsibilities, including that of generating ideas to keep the Midwinter Meeting as a leading dental conference. I’ve scouted speakers and exhibitors to bring the best minds and latest products directly to Midwinter Meeting attendees.
Whereas the time spent can be considerable, the rewards cannot be measured. The opportunity to give back to this amazing profession is well worth the time spent.
Last year, the Midwinter Meeting took place entirely online. However, this year, the event will return to its traditional in-person format. What did you miss the most about an in-person event that a virtual one could not provide?
The pandemic forced a considerable degree of change upon the world, and dentistry was in no way exempt from its impact. There were forced closures during early lockdown, and the 2021 Midwinter Meeting had to be moved to a virtual format in order to protect the health of attendees, exhibitors and event staff. Although we were very pleased with the attendance and feedback from the virtual meeting, the virtual format definitely lacked the feel of an in-person event.
What I missed the most was the opportunity to meet with my colleagues in person around McCormick Place in lectures, special events and networking events. That face-to-face interaction with speakers and colleagues and the opportunity to touch and test out the products that exhibitors bring to us is invaluable. I know my colleagues and I are all very eager to return to the in-person format this year.
The 157th Midwinter Meeting will feature many first-time exhibitors. Do you think this is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent yearning for live experiences coupled with improved professional networking opportunities?
COVID-19 kept us all apart, and now the exhibitors are eager to be face-to-face with their clients. Often what sets businesses apart is customer service and personal contacts—two things that do not correlate well with a virtual platform. Every year, the Midwinter Meeting attracts new dental companies. This year, I believe there is additional excitement about being in person, and the exhibitors recognize the vast opportunities for them to achieve their goals by participating. The Midwinter Meeting allows focused access to thousands of dental professionals under one roof at McCormick Place West.
“Often what sets businesses apart is customer service and personal contacts—two things that do not correlate well with a virtual platform”
You have not only practiced but also taught dentistry for much of your career. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way, and what is one piece of advice you would like to share with fellow dental professionals?
I started teaching when I was a resident during my periodontal training at Loyola’s School of Dentistry, where I taught a periodontics course to our dental hygiene students. That was the start of the love for teaching that I still have today. I taught there until 1993, when the school closed, and I have been a part-time clinical faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry to this day.
What teaching has taught me is how important it is to stay current with the ever-evolving science of dentistry—to never stop learning. It has also taught me how important it is to stay involved with the profession. That involvement could be through teaching or active membership in organized dentistry. We can learn so much from our colleagues and network.
Teaching has also kept me inspired. There is nothing better than being surrounded by talented young professionals who love what I love, the profession of dentistry.
Editorial note: The 2022 Midwinter Meeting will take place from Feb. 24–26. More information about the event can be found here.