Robert Ho, DDS ’91 : Taking care of people, one tooth at a time
A dentist with a knack for knowing what his patients really need – even when it has nothing to do with their teeth.
A patient once paid Robert Ho, DDS ’91, with a burrito for staying late to fix his very painful tooth. Dr. Ho told another: “No payment is necessary; use the money to buy diapers for your newborn baby.”
Dr. Ho doesn’t see anything odd about his tactics. “What it comes down to is taking care of people,” he says. “That's one of the values I received as a student from my mentors at UCSF: Develop lifelong relationships with your patients.”
Dr. Ho was nominated as one of The Dedicated by students and colleagues alike who marvel at his zeal in teaching his students and caring for his patients.
An expert at dispensing fluoride and flossing directives, Dr. Ho is also one of those rare medical professionals who senses what people really need. Recently, he visited a longtime patient who was in the hospital fighting what appeared to be a losing battle with cancer.
“I came to schedule your six-month cleaning appointment,” he told the man upon arriving at his bedside. Behind his oxygen mask, the patient broke into a wide grin. Six months later, he sat in the dental chair, getting his teeth cleaned and thanking Dr. Ho for bringing him – and his family – hope.
“I share those stories with my students to inspire them, to remind them why we're doctors: to help people first and foremost,” he says. “To give back. I find great joy in that.”
Dr. Ho comes by his instincts honestly. In 1975, he was 10 years old when Vietnam collapsed, and his family boarded a transport plane for the United States. With just $200 in their pockets, the family of five landed in San Francisco to start their new life. The children learned English and earned good grades in school – Dr. Ho’s were high enough to gain admission to UCSF’s School of Dentistry. Gratefully, he made the most of his opportunity – and he has always remembered his roots.
“As doctors, we struggle just like everybody else,” he says. “These stories remind me of all the hardships I went through to become a doctor.”
He believes that his gift to medicine lies in teaching prevention. “I could put the most gorgeous filling in your mouth, but if I don't talk about saliva, about sugar, about brushing and flossing, I might as well not do it. If you go home and drink soda your tooth is going to rot again.”
A keynote speech he gave at a White Coat Ceremony sums it up: “The best day I had as a dentist was the day that everybody who came in had no cavities. No periodontal disease. Nothing. To me, that is the ultimate compliment and the ultimate success of a dentist.”