Is your dentist a woman? Is her entire dental practice female? Do they treat your mouth as the gateway to the health of the rest of your body, mind and spirit? Do they serve you organic herbal tea when you arrive? Does your dentist coach you in mindful breathing before they ask you to open your mouth? Is your dentist also a certified yogi?
I’m guessing that unless you’re a patient of Fern White’s practice, Beacon Cove Dental you’re going to answer no to most of those questions. Fern is my spectacular dentist (how many of you can call your dentist that?!), who is not only incredibly competent at what she does, but is someone who takes leaps, owns her gifts and approaches her work and life with creativity and love.
Fern could have taken the safe route of an attractive partnership in a conventional practice, leaving her little room to bring her ideas to in the world. So she took the leap to borrow a hunk of cash to buy a dental practice, and then infuse it with her own unique approach to health and well being. Gutsy.
The other aspect of Fern’s story, is that she is a Vietnamese refugee who fled Vietnam by boat, eventually landing in Australia when she was two. As I continue to despair about our government’s treatment of humans like you and me, who seek asylum to escape war and persecution, I wonder how many other leap takers fleeing regimes are being locked up indefinitely. Surely, these people are some of the most courageous amongst us.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I always wanted to fix the human body and mind. Being the oldest daughter of six children in a migrant family, I was always given the responsibility to help look after the little ones. I remember being 11 or so, and given the responsibility to pull out my little sibling’s baby teeth. I had managed to do all mine on my own (after my dad blotched a few painful tries with floss, pliers, door handles). I was a bookworm and loved piecing apart the human anatomy in the World Book and Britannica encyclopaedias.
What did/do you study?
Non-stop studying from high school into five years of Dental School at the University of Melbourne. After this, I continued to complete postgraduate certifications in orthodontics, implant surgery, prosthodontics. I also finished my yoga and meditation teacher training. I am continually studying. I love the growth involved and am curious about the world. I am currently involved in workshops around the power of the feminine as well as keeping up with the recent trends and technology in dentistry and surgery.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
A few leaps come to mind… The most courageous would be telling my parents I didn’t believe in their catholic faith anymore and not baptising my daughter Phoenix. They were devastated as this faith is their lifeline. They clung to this faith while on the refugee boats clinging to life. I wanted to fully live in my truth and, having Phoenix, I knew that it was time to live my life and not live in the shadow of my parent’s wish.
The next leap, compared to this, was relatively easy, but this is what I will focus on: taking out a loan of half a million dollars at 13% interest to buy a small dental business.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
Thinking and procrastinating about doing these things.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My husband Alex.
My brother Linh.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
Security, safety, boredom. I worked under numerous bosses in their clinics, however found that I had to be in line with their philosophy. There was not much room or time to create.
As Anaïs Nin says, ‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
I was offered a lucrative partnership deal in a corporate environment with all of the trimmings. Except, I realised I would need to be married to my partner in business, and be like him in order to survive and keep my head above water. He was an admirable clinician, however there were many deep seeded issues around him as a person. I remember he told me ‘you are making the biggest mistake of your life’ leaving his practice to start my own.
At this stage in my life, I was at a crossroads with the medically trained way of relating to patients in a disease centric focus and the yogic, spiritual path of connecting to people. I was in my element when I was able to spend the time being authentic and truly connecting as human beings with my clients. Working for other people did not allow the time to do this.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
Being a former refugee from a war torn country meant my parents instilled in me a sense of hard work. So, courage came from working hard and knowing I had sowed many seeds along the way to prepare me.
Courage takes the form of facing the fear and going through with it anyway. It became more painful to not do it, than to do it. Making the decision is always the hardest part – then the fear turns to excitement. I never doubted that I couldn’t do what I set my mind to. I surrounded myself with as many mentors I could find: Successful dentists who owned a practice; or many practices; female leaders who created businesses, despite wearing many hats (mamas, bosses, wives); yoga and meditation teachers who inspired me.
And then I honed in on my own personal development and encased myself with books, CDs, courses of inspirational speakers. I invested in growing myself and hired a business and personal coach to help me along the way.
I knew that my business would reflect me and I wanted that me to be inspirational!
How did you fund your leap?
I was lucky to be able to borrow large sums of money from specialised institutions for medical professionals at staggering interest rates.
What other leaps have you made in the past?
I followed my dreams of deepening my experience in the world by training in yoga and meditation. Then I amalgamated my learnings from the medical and alternative worlds to create an embodied platform from which to treat patients. Specifically through breath work, hypnosis and building rapport and trust.
I also shape this through my interactions as a leader to support and grow the team I choose to surround myself with. I teach those who work with me to be their very best. It’s a win win for them, my business and patients.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
Hiring the wrong staff and being so attached to them. I realise now that the only constant in life is change. Things fluctuate around me, so as long I can find my centre and believe that the universe works for me, then I am able to let go more easily. If I let go of the old, then new opportunities will present themselves.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
I’m fearful that I am an imposter. That I really don’t know as much as I look like I do. I take my own advice: Keep up my self development and invest in myself. Keep up my daily rituals: short meditation and movement practice. Perform self-clearing kinesiology on myself. Journal more furiously. Allow myself to fully feel the emotions that come up. Surround myself with people who inspire me. Fill my own tank and realise that I can’t give unless I am full first.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
10 – the raddest!
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Freedom. To express, create, experiment and inspire. The clinic is the hub in which I can join all my loves in life (connecting, teaching, getting my hands dirty, so to speak!) and is my greatest teacher. The stresses it brings allows me to see where I need to improve in my own life: communication, patience, letting go.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
Being tuned in to the clinic 24/7 even when I am not seeing clients. Micromanaging. I realise I am somewhat of a control freak so I purposely have to let go. Switch off online. Trust in my staff or train them more so I can trust them.
What might be your next leap?
Running workshops for female medical leaders to find empowerment through:
- Owning their communication and connecting with themselves, their staff and patients
- Finding their own pleasure and sensuality
- Creating a life of passion
- Balancing their minds, bodies and many roles so they are able to avoid burnout
- To harness the power of the breath in both emotional and physical selves in order to change everything
Basically, it is a huge download of everything that I am passionate about being: a compassionate and incredible mama, boss, leader, embodied practitioner of medicine, teacher of movement, mindfulness and pleasure. How to focus on a patient-centred connection rather than a disease-centric approach in order to help our patients heal.
What are your favourite words to live by?
‘Up till now’ – Consent to yourself that you can change anything (the past doesn’t equal the future).
‘Right now I’m feeling… and that’s ok’ (full permission to feel emotions, but not the full story).
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
My brother Linh.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Feel the fear and do it anyway!
What question did I miss about your leap? And what’s your answer?
How do I feel about my leap? Grateful!
Right now I’m:
Continually learning and growing
Hearing: Tony Robbins
Eating: As healthy as I can with indulgence here and there
Drinking: Bulletproof Hot Chocolate
Reading: Womankind magazine
Loving: My daughter Phoenix
The past doesn’t equal the future. The past is done. The future is open. Now is yours for the making.