Dr. Shaun Massiah and Smiles on the Upper Westside: What Matters Most to Them is What Matters Most to Their Patients
Many adults are fearful of going to the dentist due to negative childhood experiences. The opposite is true of Dr. Shaun Massiah. At just 13 years of age, growing up in Guyana South America, young Shaun was inspired by an American dentist doing mission work there. Dr. Massiah remembers, “I was so moved by his compassion and his expertise in his field, and I knew I wanted to be like him someday.”
Four years later Shaun left his home to pursue his dream of becoming a dentist. He worked to support himself throughout his university years, before attending New Jersey Dental School. It was there that he became passionate about “changing people’s lives through dentistry.”
Dr. Massiah is grateful for all the opportunities he has been given, the jobs he has learned from, and the people who have helped him. His parents were not in the professional world and had no professional friends, so he sought the advice of experienced adults from all walks of life. He knows he could not have gotten to where he is today without all the ideas, opportunities, resources and support given to him along the way. He was consistently told he would do well and achieve his goals, which was valuable for him to hear at the time, as he admits to feeling “tremendous anxiety about the unknown” – about what he could achieve and how to go about it.
I would tell my 25-year-old self to stay calm, stay focused, and everything is going to be alright.
Building On a Legacy
Dr. Massiah started his own dental practice in 2002, then bought an existing practice at his current location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 2005. An esteemed African American dentist had grown the practice over 30 years, and wanted to pass it on to Dr. Massiah because he felt another African American would better appreciate and respect the struggles that had been overcome, and continue the legacy of excellence.
Building on that legacy, Dr. Massiah brought a philosophy born of his childhood. Not well-to-do, his parents could afford only dental treatments paid by insurance. Consequently, those were the only options offered or explained, which resulted in many extractions and dentures. Dr. Massiah came to realize that many dentists won’t take the time to discuss all possible options because no revenue is generated from consultation time. By prejudging based on perceived financial means, the doctor limits the quality of dental care even offered to patients for consideration. In contrast, Dr. Massiah’s credo has always been:
I wanted a practice where people could have options; I was not going to box them in the way my parents were boxed into a lesser standard of dental health.
When discussing treatment options, what matters most to Dr. Massiah is what matters most to the patient. His top priority is finding out what is important to them and will work best for their lifestyle. He earns trust by listening carefully and then ensuring every patient is given a description of all possible alternatives so they can make their own decision. In the vast majority of cases, Dr. Massiah and his team of dental experts are able to provide fully coordinated care under one roof, but if neither he nor his colleagues have the necessary knowledge for the patient’s chosen treatment, he gladly refers to another trusted practice.
Meet Dr. Shaun Massiahi
- From Guyana, So. America
- New Jersey Dental School
- A leading African American dentist in NYC
- NYU College of Dentistry Faculty
- Past ADA Success speaker
- Past President, NDA Greater NY Chapter
- ADA, NDA, Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry
An Inspirational Leader
The practice has continued to grow over the years, which Dr. Massiah credits in large part to having “an amazing team” that comprises two other doctors, and three team members. He views the two key aspects of practice leadership to be: (a) providing clarity about where the vision is going, and (b) providing inspiration. Only then can the team carry out the vision.
Dr. Massiah’s approach to leadership includes truly listening to his staff. In addition to the kudos he receives from the team and patients, he also appreciates when team members criticize him, question why he does or doesn’t do something a certain way, or point out when processes or systems fail and suggest improvements.
I wouldn’t have the practice I have without the team. All of their actions have guided me to become a better leader, a better dentist, and to have a practice that operates more efficiently so we can help more clients.
Dr. Massiah continually asks himself and the team – “How can we provide better customer service?... improve the quality of our work?... reduce wait time on the phone and in the reception area?... provide faster turnaround time?... improve the quality of our dentistry?” But he doesn’t just ask those questions, he looks for answers. For example, even though his re-do rate is a mere 1%, he purchased a 3D scanner to further increase the quality of work and patient experience, e.g., accuracy of impressions, speed of impressions to minimize patient discomfort, and size and clarity of 3D images.
When unforeseen circumstances occur, Dr. Massiah not only leverages his calm demeanor to lead the team through it in the moment, but seizes the opportunity to learn and improve. For example, a patient’s fainting episode led to more emergency training for the staff, and reinforcement of systems such as ensuring the oxygen tank is always full and easily accessible, and that everyone knows where it is and how to use it. Occasionally, a patient’s jaw will lock up. As a result, Dr. Massiah has personally beefed up his own understanding about the complex area of TMJ by re-reading textbooks and learning from his mentors.
I look at challenges as opportunities. My staff knows that if something happens, there’s going to be a meeting, there’s going to be a training. That gives the team reassurance that no matter what comes our way, we’re going to handle it together.
Dr. Massiah credits eAssist with helping him and the staff handle unexpected situations like these because the in-house team is able to stay focused on patient care while the eAssist team is keeping the billing and collections function running smoothly and effectively. Two of his friends – described as “raving fans of eAssist” – recommended that Dr. Massiah consider bringing eAssist on board about a year ago. During the COVID shutdown, Dr. Massiah decided the timing was right, explaining, “Prior to eAssist we were dealing with all the insurances issues, tracking down narratives and x-rays, and trying to manage the workload. With eAssist handling all those areas, I and the team are freed up to better handle other priorities.”
We are so grateful for eAssist, and all the work they’ve done for my office; they are awesome!
Dr. Massiah takes nothing for granted. He appreciates being able to walk to his office – enjoying the beautiful city parks and the energy of the people along the way. He looks forward to going to work every day, and is grateful for a team he considers a family. To him, life is a gift and he believes we should all aspire to maximize our time here – for ourselves, for our families, and for the larger community, however we personally define that.
I’m getting to live a dream life; being a dentist is what I wanted to do, and what I get to do on a daily basis. And, I’m able to impact others – my patients, other young dentists, my team members, my community.
Dr. Massiah prides himself on making time to respond to every phone call, every email, every text, and helping whenever and however he can. Following are just a few examples of how he gives of himself to impact others:
- He discusses with each team member what they want to do and where they want to go. He encourages them to use the practice and all its resources as an opportunity to achieve their own life vision, even if that leads them away from the practice.
- He mentors others by allowing them to shadow in the office, for example, so they can learn more about working in a dental practice. “I’m a big believer that even though someone is willing to work hard and sacrifice, they don’t always know how to even get started. It’s so awesome to be able to provide an opportunity; to offer a roadmap and be supportive in helping someone achieve their goals.”
- Dr. Massiah participated in the Full Mouth Rehabilitation CE Program at NYU’s College of Dentistry for two years. The Director of the program at the time – Dr. Dean Vafiadis, Prosthodontist – asked Dr. Massiah to stay on as a faculty member, which he has been for five years. His mentor and colleague in practice now – Dr. Alan Smolen – is currently the Education Director of the program. “It’s an amazing program that deals with complex cases in general dentistry. It doesn’t make you a prosthodontist, but you gain the skills and confidence to treat more of your own patients. In addition, you gain a family of colleagues and faculty with whom you can consult on challenging cases, and refer patients when necessary.”
- Dr. Massiah also shares his knowledge by regularly speaking at dental schools and hospitals. He is a Past Success speaker for the American Dental Association, Past President of the Greater NY Chapter of the National Dental Association, and belongs to the Academy of General Dentistry, and American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Massiah’s best advice to others is a visionary one:
(1) Define with great clarity your own personal vision or dream that is unique to you; and then, (2) Keep reaching for it. Despite the inevitable detours or frustrations or periods of uncertainty during the journey, never stop reaching for your vision.