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Leading with your Gut

I've been involved with the healthcare industry since I was a toddler, watching my dad in his medical practice and my mom in her dental practice. My favorite memories were not only of just being in the same room with the patients, but of hearing laughter as the patients chatted about their personal family stories with my parents. Frequently, the fun and casual chatter would supersede the time spent on the treatment itself. As my parents each stepped into their retirement chapter, it was very emotional and bittersweet for each to feel like they left numerous friends behind that were part of their daily work during the past 30 years. Looking back, I appreciated my parents as family doctors and it was only later in life when I understood that they were also entrepreneurs and ran businesses. The greatest lesson I learned was the gift of conversation and laughter and how it can transform the entire experience for all parties involved. As I grew up, I knew I wanted to be in a profession where I would have to take the opportunity to connect with people first and foremost.

When I started dental school in 1992, the internet was not even on most people's minds yet. I remember a time when we, as doctors, relied on the basics from school and textbooks to establish our technical skills but the rest was left to pure intuition. There weren't any business classes in school and there was neither Google nor YouTube to help us with any lack of knowledge on anything. Our own daily successes and failures strengthened our minds and hands but the individual experiences with people over the years strengthened our gut instinct. It was okay to go through trial and error during our journey as we tried to achieve the best results, that weren't always close to perfect.

More than 25 years later, I am witnessing a change in behavior with many people Googling their medical questions and procedures, researching their doctors and costs, reviewing what other consumers are saying and then ultimately making decisions after they feel they have thoroughly researched the Web. What I observe happening at times is that the easy access to a world of information overload leads to a state of indecisiveness or even anxiety. Are these researchers trying to set up a journey to the perfect experience? Don't get me wrong, we can't live without Google nowadays. It's just that I hope we don't eventually lose that "gut instinct" that allows us to inherently judge what is right for ourselves. For our children, the instinct that allows them to be "street smart," being okay with imperfect results and pushing their creativity beyond what they can research so that they can create their own solutions, regardless of what the majority says. For the patient or consumer, the instinct that allows them to use their common sense and believe in the person that is kind and treats them well. For the doctor, the instinct that allows them to lead with their heart and take the time to listen first and foremost, to whoever is in the room with them. Don't always Google and don't worry about what everyone else is doing. Lead with your gut....the experience will at least allow you to listen, truly live in the moment and trust yourself.

Dr. Nicole Van is a native of the Washington, DC area, spending most of her childhood in Fairfax County. After graduating from George Mason University where she received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics, she journeyed into the healthcare field and attained her Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree at the Medical College of Virginia in 1996. She is a strong advocate of advanced education and using the latest technology and materials. Her daily work ranges from preventative and basic procedures to the more complex, in which she takes the time to plan treatment with an interdisciplinary team of multiple doctors. A key component of her treatment style links oral health with overall systemic health. Her family practice has been featured in the Washingtonian's Top Doctors during the past several years and is located in the heart of the Tysons area, welcoming adults and children of all ages. Learn more about her at

Dr. Van lives with her husband and their three young children in Vienna, VA. On her days and evenings outside of the office, you may find her maintaining a busy mom life at many of the kids' sporting events all around town!

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