Making it to a milestone: Shepherdstown dentist celebrates 40 years of local dentistry
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Forty-one years ago, Brian Palank graduated from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry and came to the Eastern Panhandle for his first job — a one-year contractual position at the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs Center. As his year with the contract wound down, he realized that he wanted to continue living in the area, and began visiting the towns surrounding Martinsburg with his wife, to find a place to establish a dental practice.
On July 3, 1980, Palank opened his dental practice in Shepherdstown, at 123 South Duke Street. He kept his practice in that location for eight years, before moving to his current location, at 37 Maddex Drive.
“I enjoy being part of the community of Shepherdstown. It is the most special place ever, and I just kind of lucked into Shepherdstown,” Palank said. “I didn’t know much about it — I was a young guy and came to Shepherdstown and said, ‘this’ll work.’ But I found a family in the entire community.”
Palank moved his family from Martinsburg to Shepherdstown a year after he set up his practice here. A decision, he said, that turned out to be the best he could have made for himself, his wife, his son and his daughter.
“It’s a long time. I can’t believe it. It just went by like nothing!” Palank said, mentioning he has never missed a day of work at his practice. “I never thought about [retirement]. Twenty years ago I thought I might get bored of [dentistry], but I’m [still] here. It’s a long time – a lot of teeth! I’m fortunate to have been part of this community for 40 years. That is the best part of this for me.”
While Palank is not ready to retire any time soon, he said that this year is turning out to be the most difficult in his career, due to the COVID-19 guidelines he has had to instate in his practice. The guidelines, which were developed by the American Dental Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have temporarily altered his practice’s relaxed atmosphere.
“I’ve always been a high-pace guy, and I think one of the hardest things for me has been this. We’re paying attention to all of the little things we need to be aware of,” Palank said, mentioning the guidelines include thicker masks for the staff and a limited number of people in his waiting room. “It’s harder to change things, but we’re getting used to it. It’s becoming a little easier.”
His dental hygienist of 13 years, Velvet Hammond, researched guideline ideas, which were then agreed upon by Palank’s staff for when he reopened his practice on May 11, after being closed for seven weeks.
“We’re very proud of our protocol that we’ve developed among all of us as a team,” Hammond said. “I’m very proud of it and happy that our patients are very comfortable and we are comfortable to be back and seeing them.”
However, the pandemic did cause at least one loss in his practice. One member of his administrative staff, Kathy Hartle, retired after 35 years at the practice.
“He was an excellent boss,” Hartle said. “I enjoyed working there and enjoyed the patients so much that I didn’t want to retire. But it was time to retire, because of the COVID.”
Palank’s current staff officially celebrated his work anniversary with a special lunch and cake on July 1, according to his dental assistant of 20 years, Paula Roll.
“I just thought, what a milestone! The man is so energetic, he just goes and goes and goes,” Roll said. “I think the coronavirus put a damper on everything, and all of us girls wanted to get together and celebrate. He truly means so much to this community, and I know I’m blessed to be working for him!”
While all of his staff describe him as a hardworking role model, they seem to most appreciate working with him because of his love for his patients, which drives him to excel at his job.
“You meet Dr. Palank and see the passion he has for his job – he loves the job and his patients,” said administrative staff member Linda Russell, who has been with the practice for 16 years. “He wouldn’t be the same if he didn’t have his job to go to.”
Dental assistant Glenna Bolyard, who has been at the practice for two years, agreed with Russell.
“He treats his patients like humans and truly wants to take care of them,” Bolyard said, mentioning he has also volunteered his soccer refereeing services with the Morgan’s Grove Park team for 36 years. “It says something about the type of person he is, that he’s had the same practice in the same town for 40 years.”