Having run his own dental practice in Cheltenham for decades, Dr Tony Heilberg often sees several generations of the same family, with many still returning to him for their regular check-ups, despite moving several suburbs away.
‘That's all part of the pleasure of being a general dentist; because you're staying in one place you can have that sense of being part of the community and have that feeling of the value that you're providing for the community,’ he says. ‘Specialists can treat patients and never see them again, whereas general dentists, we get to see the generations, which is really rewarding.’
Tony has enjoyed working as a dentist since he graduated in 1974. And, while the principles of dentistry have remained unchanged over the years, Tony says some of the technological advances have made many aspects of his work quicker, easier, and more fun.
Ingrained good habits
‘You can get some instant results. You see the results of your work in the health and the appearance of your patients, but my emphasis tends to be on prevention: preventing decay and gum disease. When you see people from a young age and you can ingrain good habits, you truly see the benefits down the track.’
Having operated his solo practice for almost 40 years, Tony was frustrated by people who assumed he’d retire when he had to relocate his business because of a Railway Crossing Authority level-crossing removal.
‘That’s ageism,’ Tony says. ‘People do make assumptions just because of your years, rather than who you are and what you do – what you can do. They do it for no other reason other than they know you've been around for a while, which I think is short sighted and senseless.’
No deadline for retirement
‘I have never had a deadline, and I still don't have a deadline for when I will retire. My feeling is you stop only when you can't do what you're doing. Why set an artificial limit to your capacity while you're still functioning?
‘Age is a subjective thing. It has to do with someone's state of mind, their health, their attitude. It’s about the pleasure or otherwise they've had in their working life; work is not just a means to an end.
Expectations that you must retire because you're a certain age – and when you don't there's something wrong with you – I think are wrong.
‘Even though as a business owner you may have worked harder as it is your own, at least you know you're making the decisions for yourself, nobody else is telling you what to do. And I think that's one of the reasons why it's easier to continue on working if you're your own boss.’
Relocation a career highlight
Two years on from the announcement that he needed to relocate, Tony and his dedicated team now work happily out of a newly fitted-out clinic in Cheltenham, close to his previous practice and clientele.
‘It was a couple of years of hard work of fitting out a new building and moving the practice. But I survived it and I think that will be a career highlight in some ways.
‘I value what I've developed, created. I've got a long-standing and happy practice, to me that's worth maintaining. There will come a time when I'll have to stop, of course, but I'm not ready for that – not for a long while yet!’