LOS ANGELES—We’ve all heard Alexander Graham Bell’s famous quote, “When one door closes, another opens.” The best exemplification of this concept might just be the tale of the Wong sisters. Janet and Jennifer, two dentists who began their medical careers when their dreams of being veterinarians were crushed by an unfortunate allergic reaction to animals.
Neither of them could have anticipated that from such an inconveniencing circumstance, they would have the opportunity to bring bright smiles onto the faces of thousands of people in the Los Angeles area.
Their journey began when they were teenagers enrolled at the University of California-Irvine, as biology majors. A research opportunity at the school’s Beckman Laser Institute provided a career-altering opportunity to study alongside dentist researchers working with cutting-edge laser technology. “We saw how happy all the dentists were with what they were doing, they were really the ones who influenced us and steered us toward dentistry,” Janet told Canyon News.
For the Wong sisters, dentistry became a way for them to build an empire of compassion, while practicing the hands-on artistry of perfecting beautiful smiles. “We get to work with people, that’s the best part,” says Jennifer. “It’s very rewarding for us to help someone who comes into our offices so frustrated from being in pain, and see that when they leave, they’re smiling because they had someone take the time to make them feel better.”
Jennifer and Janet spent six and seven years, respectively, serving as associates. While building their careers in a corporate dentistry environment, the Wong sisters constantly thought about how they could best help others. After several years of experience, the Wongs decided to pursue their dream of opening their own dental practice. In 2007, Serenity Dental Care came to fruition.
“It was the best way to help people the way we wanted to help them. Corporate offices don’t provide as much freedom for dentists to make decisions for themselves. Our belief system is to be there to help people and make sure they’re healthy instead of being turned away or have our actions be dictated by employers,” the sisters stated.
Their compassionate practice has taken many different forms, but perhaps the most important is the Wong sisters’ decision to be an in-network practice. Being in-network means their practice is contracted with several different insurance groups, but as a result, they do not make as much money as they would with being out-of-network.
According to Janet, “When dentists are in-network, insurances cut the pay of what is charged and what is given to us so they are able to make a profit and allow their stockholders to see that their company’s revenue is going up. When you’re in-network as a dentist, you really get nothing. This is why a lot of people have a hard time finding dentists.”
Although the Wongs were able to pursue their lifelong dream of opening their own practice to help patients the way they envisioned, “it certainly wasn’t easy,” Janet recalls. In dental school, “they don’t teach you how to open a business, it’s definitely a challenge, one where you learn as you go.”
The Wong sisters have always relied on each other, and have a dynamic that has surpassed many of the hardships that facing entrepreneurial challenges has entailed. “We are lucky to have each other,” says Jennifer, “there are so many regulations that we have to keep on top of, you have to make sure things are done correctly. You don’t know everything behind scenes until you get there; you always have to keep up.” The sisters say that continued education courses have been tremendously helpful, but they’ve been happy to see that that some dental schools now offer classes to help aspiring dentists have the tools necessary to open their own practices.
With a rare five-star rating on Yelp, the Wong sisters have owned and operated their business over the past eight years. With each smile they create, they are motivated to do their best to serve the patients who put their faith in their practice. Janet recalls, when they were growing up, they were always in and out of hospitals.
“We’ve had so many medical issues in our own lives. Jen had a tumor at the top of her adrenal gland when she was a child; she was taken from one doctor to the next. I had asthma, and there were a lot of different issues our family faced,” said Janet.
The Wong sisters both agreed that when you’re in and out of physicians’ offices you want to feel comfortable; you want patients to feel cared about and at ease. For the Wongs, they made this the goal of their practice, so when their patients enter their practice, they are greeted with someone calming them down, so they know that they will be taken care of. “We always try to be very ethical and moral. We treat our patients how we would want to treat our friends and family.”
Beyond their private practice, the Wong sisters also volunteer their skills extensively to low-income residents who need medical services. Through an organization called Care Harbor, each year, thousands of people line up at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for medical, dental and optometry services. According to Care Harbor’s website, last year’s clinic took place over the span of four days, from September 11 to September 14. Over 3,000 patients received more than 20,000 healthcare services. Doctor Janet and Jennifer Wong were amongst the 2,940 healthcare professionals who volunteered their services for the event.
Although the massive number of people can often be overwhelming in a four-day span of time, serving Care Harbor has allowed Janet and Jennifer to serve their community in a way they never thought possible. “Most of the people you are working on at Care Harbor truly have nothing, and they are so appreciative of whatever you can do to help them,” says Jennifer.
“When you go through something like that, you realize how many people really need help around you, and what you can do to get involved,” she added.
Janet remembers how working in the arena can become quickly tiring, especially when working with older equipment in dim lighting and an environment that is loud and unfamiliar. “Sometimes when I get tired and feel like leaving, I can’t help but look around at the thousands of people who are still waiting in line to have dental work done; for some, maybe for the first time in years, and I end up staying all day.”
The Wong sisters both agree that they have achieved their lifelong dream, and are doing what they love most to help their local community. However, they are living examples that hard work and acquired skills are meaningless without the aspect of compassion to drive purpose to craft.