The end of the beginning

Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky on his time as
Alberta Dental Association’s first President

Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky wasn’t looking for another job when he was elected as the first president of the Alberta Dental Association.

But the long-time Calgary periodontist took it in stride and explained to his wife, Gwen, with tongue firmly in cheek, “We had a vote, I lost the vote and now I’m the president.”

To say that 2023 was a busy year for Dr. Yaholnitsky would be an understatement for the man who helped establish the new Association. As president, he oversaw the formation of a brand-new association, the growth of the Board, the hiring of its first Chief Executive Officer, the development of new tools like the website and Member Lounge and took the lead in advocacy around issues like vaping, Alberta’s low-income dental programs, and the federal government’s Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP).

Now, as his term comes to an end, the responsibility shifts to incoming president Dr. Jenny Doerksen of Red Deer.

Governance experience key

All joking aside, Dr. Yaholnitsky realized how important it would be for the inaugural president of the Alberta Dental Association (ADA) to have a governance background in the new position.

“We could not start a fledgling organization without a rudder,” explains Dr. Yaholnitsky, who also served as president of the former Alberta Dental Association and College during the COVID-19 pandemic from July 2020 to June 2021. “We needed someone on the Board with governance experience to work with those who are newer to be able to learn the process.”

The ADA was born after the provincial government mandated professional health associations must operate independently from regulatory health colleges, as had been done previously through the Alberta Dental Association and College. The Alberta Dental Association and the College of Dental Surgeons of Alberta now function as two independent organizations.

“I really felt an obligation to the profession,” explains Dr. Yaholnitsky when speaking about the new ADA’s mandate to promote, advocate, educate and support dentists throughout Alberta.

ADA President Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky speaks at the NorthWest Dental Expo in Edmonton on September 22, 2023.
ADA President Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky speaks at the NorthWest Dental Expo in Edmonton on September 22, 2023.

Association promotes unity

Dr. Yaholnitsky recognized it was vital for the new association to provide an opportunity to create a united front for Alberta dentists to work with the federal and provincial governments, as well as foster relationships with other dental associations across Canada.

He says that while it’s easy for dentists to focus primarily on private practice, it’s equally important for oral health providers to look beyond the day-to-day clinic operations and play a larger role in the profession itself.

“If you want things to work a certain way, you need to participate,” he emphasizes, pointing to the federal government’s CDCP as a good example of why it’s important for dentists to be engaged and unified.

Dr. Yaholnitsky is also a strong proponent of teamwork within the office. He believes respect and appreciation for one another grows through collaboration and leads to success for everyone involved from patients to staff to clinic owners. This is a passion that will serve him well as the Chair of the 2024 Alberta Dental Team Summit.

During his career, he has made conscious effort to work with hygienist and dental assistant associations to help build a good repertoire.

“As a dentist, if you’ve got a good dental assistant, you are so much more productive,” he says. “A good relationship is essential – we’ve both agreed that we couldn’t do what we do without each other.”

As a dentist, if you’ve got a good dental assistant, you are so much more productive.

Family of dentists

A passion for health care runs deep in Dr. Yaholnitsky’s genes. His father and brother both practised as dentists, and three of his uncles were physicians.

Growing up in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, the sports lover originally planned to become a physical education teacher. In 1975, he competed in the Canada Games in volleyball. Science also piqued his interest and eventually dentistry won out marking the start of an exciting career in oral medicine.

Following dentistry school, Dr. Yaholnitsky worked in Chilliwack, B.C., at a small dental office. Business was slow due to a downturn in the lumber industry, so he supplemented his income providing dental work at a nearby maximum-security prison.

“What I found is these prisoners had never gone to a dentist and they were so scared,” he recalls.

“They were petrified.”

A year later, Dr. Yaholnitsky moved to a new dental clinic in Calgary and eventually moved to Minnesota for periodontal training.

ADA meeting with Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange
ADA CEO Sandi Kossey, President-Elect Dr. Jenny Doerksen and Dr. Yaholnitksy meeting with Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange in 2023

Retirement isnt in the near future

“I liked what I was doing from day one and I still really love doing periodontics,” says Dr. Yaholnitsky. Two years ago, he sold his Calgary practice and now works part-time as an associate.

“People say to me, ‘Why are you still working?’ and I say, ‘Because I like it.’”

While not thinking about retirement, the father of three adult children is looking forward to a bit lighter workload, personal travel and more cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, biking, and golf.

Dr. Yaholnitsky chuckles that he’s going to have to sit on his hands as ADA past-president but vows to remain supportive going forward.

He’s happy with the board and organization’s growth during his term, especially with the hiring of a strong management team.

Along the way, Dr. Yaholnitsky has gained many lifelong friends. As president he travelled across Alberta and from coast-to-coast-to-coast meeting peers, politicians, and policy-makers — he’s a firm believer of in-person meetings whenever possible.

And what advice does Dr. Yaholnitsky have for the new president going forward?

“You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, there’s a lot of intelligent people around,” he says. ““Don’t worry about being wrong. Everybody is wrong sometimes. Listening is better than talking a lot of times.”

— Lorena Franchuk

This article appeared in the January/February 2024 edition of the ADA Connection magazine.