Dr. Charles Jerge: Legacy Builder


In any political season there is talk of legacies. For those of us outside politics, should we also be concerned with our legacy? Like it or not, we will leave a legacy of one kind or another, so some concern about it may be well-placed.

Let’s consider the legacies of those we admire most. Personally, I can think of no better example than a man I was fortunate enough to have as a mentor early in my career, Dr. Charles Jerge (pronounced yer-ghee), or “Charlie” as his students, residents, faculty, and staff knew him.

Here is the Jerge model for legacy building: Select a career in service of others. Approach this career at full speed, with curiosity, and an intent to question the status quo. Establish important contributions, and then mentor others to expand those contributions. And do it all with a sense of fun, excitement, and urgency.

During Dr. Jerge’s career in healthcare, he advanced the understanding of trigeminal nerve neurophysiology, as well as the physiologic basis of temporomandibular disorders. He invented a containerized (cassette) delivery system for dental instruments. He brought formalized accreditation to dental group practices via the AAAHC, built the largest closed-panel dental practice in the US, established a full department of dentistry in a US medical school, and provided a new economic model for the success of general practice residencies in dentistry. Dr. Jerge pioneered the practice of dentistry in dental groups, where he innovated in quality assurance, expanded duty auxiliaries, structured patient records, population health assessment, and preventive care for children and adults.

I recall that Dr. Jerge’s interests were so advanced that he had Dr. Lawrence Weed help us design a problem-oriented record for dentistry before most in the profession had even considered the use of structured patient records. Dr. Jerge wrote a ground-breaking textbook on dental group practice. He pioneered the use of computers in dentistry and created the first electronic patient record used in day-to-day patient care in a large dental group practice. These early systems included computer-based protocols for prioritization of care and computer-assisted treatment planning.

I can testify personally to his ongoing impact in patient care. The Electronic Dental Record (EDR) that I’ve been fortunate enough to create in my current postion, and which is used for millions of patient encounters, has Charlie’s fingerprints all over it. I suspect there are many similar stories of Charlie’s ongoing impact across the profession.

Through all this, Dr. Jerge’s personality, energy, and drive drew us towards him. I remember the high speed “Jerge Walk”, which we emulated by leaning forward and then walking fast enough to keep from falling. His walking style was simply an expression of his sense of purpose and urgency to accomplish what has since become a legacy that has touched many lives, including mine. To put it simply: that’s how it should be done.

(Original post on November 15, 2016)


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