Once a month, Alan Fetner, D.M.D. class of 1980, and his wife, Mary Hartigan, D.M.D. class of 1982, travel from Jacksonville, Florida, to Gainesville and work alongside residents and predoctoral students in the University of Florida College of Dentistry’s periodontology and prosthodontics center. They’ve made this trip, unfailingly, for many years.
Some might say they come to UF to volunteer their time and expertise. But Fetner and Hartigan say that they’re here to learn, to reenergize themselves, and to give back to a college that has played a part in giving them, “great lives, great careers and a great family.” Fetner says that being at the college and working with today’s students and residents helps him and Hartigan build and maintain strong relationships with faculty, and continues the ongoing connection they have felt to the school since they were students.
Fetner’s first job after dental school graduation was as a teacher at UFCD.
“I think it gave me a taste of what education was like from the other side and I really enjoyed it.”
Fetner stresses that, as faculty, they have to remain humble enough to learn from the students and residents.
“Educators are supposed to inspire their students, but working with the students also inspires us.”
Dental school teaches you to think, to problem-solve, to approach challenges from more than one perspective and then choose the solution that is best for that patient, he said. His best moments are when he thinks that he knows the ‘right’ way to solve a problem, but then a student proposes another option that may be even better.
“In this profession, we should always be elastic. Always willing to learn a new method and open to innovation and technology. One of the fun parts of being in the dental school is that, on any given day, you can have a team of experts from different specialties considering a problem and solving it together,” he said.
Each time, what they learn in that setting trickles down to how he and Hartigan treat patients in their private practice as well.
There are people who work to live. And there are those that, through luck and commitment, are able to earn their living doing something they love. Fetner and Hartigan love dentistry. And they love the profession, the people, the service, and the UF College of Dentistry where it all began.
Fetner notes that when he’s speaking or lecturing, the first thing that’s said when he is being introduced is, “earned his dental degree and periodontal training at the University of Florida.”
“I realize that I am always representing UF. I didn’t just earn a diploma I could hang on my wall. The diploma means something to me and I feel like, through my actions and decisions, I need to protect it,” Fetner said.
Fetner and Hartigan are also both triple Gator graduates. Both earned their undergraduate, dental and specialty degrees in periodontics from UF. Fetner and Hartigan’s periodontal practice opened in 1988, and includes two additional Fetners. Their sons, Michael, a graduate of the D.M.D. class of 2010, and Alex, who graduated in 2011, both grew up hearing about dentistry at the dinner table and chose to make it their careers as well. It’s a family of great Gator Dentists and we’re fortunate to have them as a part of our college.