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Alumni Profile: Dr. Kerry Kaysserian

Dr. Kerry Kaysserian

Dr. Kerry Kaysserian (right) poses with his Access Dental Group colleagues, from left, dental assistant Tina Tuller, Dr. Kim Wright and Dr. Rob Lovell.

Dr. Kerry Kaysserian on the deck of the Kokomo.

The Kokomo under way.

Traverse City dentist devoted to the profession ... and to hoisting the sails

Ann Arbor, Mich., Aug. 6, 2018 -– Anyone looking at the resume of Dr. Kerry Kaysserian is left wondering how this Traverse City dentist has ever had time to practice dentistry or engage in his twin passions of skiing and sailing.

From the early days after he first opened his practice in 1981, Kaysserian has been involved with local, state and national dental organizations. As he moved deeper into his dental career, he was asked to represent the interests of dentistry on successively larger boards and commissions.

Kaysserian (DDS 1981) has been on the Michigan State Board of Dentistry since 2011, serving as chairman in 2016-17. He is an examiner with the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments, traveling primarily around the Midwest to ensure the national standards for aspiring dentists. He has served on the Michigan Dental Association’s Dental PAC, a political action committee, since 1998 and chaired the PAC’s board of governors for nine years, from 2007-2016.  He’s chaired MDA’s Access to Care Funding Committee and served on another, the Special Committee on Governance, which crafted new by-laws. He spent six years on the Board of Directors for both the Michigan and Ohio Delta Dental Plans, and is currently a board member of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. He’s given back to his alma mater, the U-M dental school, as an adjunct lecturer for its community outreach program, with its summer migrant health program and as a member of the Alumni Society Board of Governors for several years. Then there is his work with the Resort District Dental Society, the Grand Traverse Area Chamber of Commerce and the city’s Catholic schools advisory board.

Put it all together and it’s not surprising why the Michigan Dental Association named him the Emmett C. Bolden Dentist Citizen of the Year Award earlier this year.

Kaysserian says there are a couple of reasons why he is so engaged in service to the profession. First, he is the unusual dentist who majored in business as an undergrad, so he likes to exercise that part of his background knowledge. And, second, he just plain likes being around people and being a part of a team.

He practiced by himself for about a decade before he decided in 1990 to add a partner, Dr. Rob Lovell (U-M DDS 1987). About 15 years ago, Dr. Kim Wright (U-M DDS 1981) joined the practice, Access Dental Group. “I hate practicing by myself,” Kaysserian says bluntly. “Having colleagues around made it much more rewarding and I enjoyed it much, much more.”

That collaborative atmosphere is what he likes about serving on boards and in organizations. “I’m more of a group personality,” he said. “A lot of people go off and have their office and spend their whole life professionally in their office and that’s their life.”

“I’ve just been a bigger-picture person,” he said, pointing to his time with Delta Dental and Blue Cross Blue Shield. “You’re in a board room with people from different corporations and union leaders. Trying to make (an issue) work for everybody isn’t easy. It’s that sort of cooperative environment that I really enjoy.” It’s a similar experience with the Michigan Board of Dentistry when they are hearing licensure appeals or rewriting state regulations. “We’re in there with educators, dentists, hygienists and the members of the public. All have a vote and play a large part. That collaboration, getting together and working toward a common goal, representing all the interests. What’s it look like from 25,000 feet up? The big picture. That’s the kind of stuff that just excites me. I just love being in that environment.”

Which is not to say that he’s never at the office. He and his partners rotate a schedule that has two of them there most days. Kaysserian’s normal schedule is three and a half days a week, which allows him time for his public service. He says he takes most of the extractions, which he jokes is the preference of his two colleagues, and in turn he passes along most of the endodontics work to Rob Lovell. Kaysserian has developed a niche with sleep apnea treatment in recent years, but his office does mostly general dentistry because the Traverse City area has a large group of excellent specialists. “I don’t want to say it’s being lazy, but why would I do some of these procedures myself when some of the sharpest men and women in the state perform those specialties right out my front door.”

After 37 years, the rewards are still about helping the patients. “It’s a family practice,” Kaysserian said. “As such, it’s the relationship with the families. You see the kids grow up and get married and have kids of their own – that type of thing.” The woman who was his first patient in 1981 is still a patient, but their office banter has changed over the years; it now focuses on her children and grandchildren and Kaysserian’s children, now adults. Kaysserian and his wife Donna have a daughter Mallory, 24, who is a crime scene technician for the Grand Rapids Police Department, and a son, Kevin, 22, who is majoring in business at Grand Valley State University.

As his kids head into the early years of their careers, Kaysserian has good memories when he thinks back to his decision to get his dental degree at U-M. “The Class of ’81 was loaded with a unique group of characters,” he said. “There was no lack of personality or identity for my class.”  It was a time of transition for the school’s faculty. “There were still these icons, names that are still held in reverence – Ramfjord, Ash, the people who wrote all the textbooks. But the old school was starting to retire and then there was the newer breed of younger dentists. The old crew taught from the podium and their word was law. And the younger instructors were collaborative: let’s work on this together.” His class was brash and outspoken, unafraid of speaking their minds. But they backed it up with good grades and good hands. “Overwhelmingly, they are all great dentists today,” Kaysserian said.

When Kaysserian needs a break from dentistry, he usually heads to either a ski slope or a sailboat. An expert skier, he was a certified professional ski instructor for a decade and helped organize ski meets for many years. But if you want to hear a million stories about adventures on the Great Lakes, ask Kaysserian about sailing over the last 30 years with his long-time friend and fellow dentist Dr. Wes Schulz (DDS 1972). The pair and a dozen or so of their friends are the crew of Schulz’s 55-foot sailboat, Kokomo. This is not leisurely sailing -– it is the serious sort of sailing that takes you on the annual Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac 17 times in Kaysserian’s case, more for Schulz. They’ve won twice in their class of boats.

Perhaps the most memorable trip in the race was in 2002 when they rescued two crew members from another boat that overturned during a storm in the Straits of Mackinac near the end of the race. Winds raged from 50 to 80 mph that night. Kaysserian was manning the radio when he heard the mayday call. The crew soon realized that they would be the first boat on the scene, but it was dark and finding the men would be difficult. The crew of a Great Lakes freighter coming in the opposite direction assisted in the search by shining its powerful spotlight on the scene. The Kokomo soon came upon the two men clinging together in the water with only one inflated life preserver. The Kokomo crew also rescued four other crew members who had managed to stay with the overturned boat.

The incident was one of countless ways Kaysserian and his fellow sailors have bonded over the years. “It’s a group that has made the commitment and been doing this for a long time together,” he said. “You know these people, you trust them. And you trust them with your life – not to be too dramatic.”

Being part of the crew fits well with his “group personality” and love of collaboration. Kayssarian is not someone who wants to sail solo, whether it’s in his dental practice or on the water. In both sailing and dentistry, more time is spent solving problems than coasting along with a fair wind and a following sea.

“You imagine 10-mile-an-hour winds, the boat cutting along cleanly, and it’s beautiful and there’s a full moon and the stars are out at night and it’s fabulous. That’s how you remember it. It’s rarely like that, but that’s what you want it to be.”

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The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral health care education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists, and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu.  Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at dentistry.communications@umich.edu, or (734) 615-1971.