Joe, Hannah and Phil Yancho at Hannah's White Coat Ceremony as she entered the School of Dentistry with the Class of 2021 in July 2017. (Photo courtesy Yancho family)
Hannah (D1) and Joe (D4) stand in the School of Dentistry hallway next to the Class of 1985 composite photo (lower right) that includes a portrait of their father, Phil (enlarged and inset at right).
The Yanchos hold an oversized toothbrush commemorating their work with the school's Victors for Veterans program that provides free dental care for military veterans. (Photo courtesy Yancho family)
This profile is one in a series highlighting School of Dentistry alumni, donors and students.
Ann Arbor, Mich., April 18, 2018 -- When Dr. Phil Yancho thinks about his son, Joe, graduating from the School of Dentistry on May 4, he is content in knowing that Joe has a well-thought-out plan for the next five years or so.
Joe accepted a U.S. Navy scholarship during his first year of dental school and will move to the Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago after graduation. One year of Advanced Education General Dentistry will be followed by his four-year Navy commitment in return for the scholarship. It will be a solid start to Joe’s career as a dentist, whether he continues in the Navy, leaves for a general or specialty practice, or maybe heads back home to Traverse City, Mich., to work with his dad.
Phil didn’t have quite such an organized plan in 1985 when he was heading into his DDS graduation at U-M – although his story nearly had a Navy connection, too. He had finished in the top 15 percent of his class and was in the mix for a teaching job at the school, but that fell through when it was accepted by another student ahead of him. Phil was from a family with lots of military veterans, so one day in the months leading up to graduation, he decided he would enlist in the Navy.
“I was actually on my way to the Navy recruiter’s office when I saw this job in Traverse City posted on the bulletin board in the dental school. It was ‘Associate Wanted in Traverse City.’ I said: Hmmm, Traverse City or Navy?” He was a native of Flint and had a brother who worked at Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan, so staying close to home had its appeal. He called the Traverse City dentist, who offered him the position. What Phil didn’t know at the time was that resort country Up North had plenty of dentists. “One of my classmates told me: ‘You’re going to Traverse City? You’re going to starve.’ Well, I didn’t starve, but it was lean for a while.”
Yancho worked with the other dentist for about a year and a half, then decided to go out on his own, purchasing the records of his relatively few patients and leasing a small office. “I put up my shingle and away I went. I made less in one month than I do in a day now. It was kind of crazy.” Over time, his practice grew large enough that in 1996 he built a new building of his own, where he continues his solo general practice today.
It’s been a great place to have a great career and raise a family, Phil says. He and his wife, Sally, who is the office business manager, have four children. Joe, the second oldest, has been joined by Hannah, the youngest, in choosing the dentist career route. Hannah and Joe are just finishing a year of walking the halls together at their dad’s alma mater. One of the busiest hallways in the school is home to the composite photos of previous DDS classes, including the Class of 1985 with a very young-looking Phillip Yancho in the bottom row.
“I always joke that I walk by my dad’s picture every day and then I walk by Joe,” Hannah said. “But now, with Joe graduating, it’s going to be that I walk past both their pictures. It’ll be strange.”
Neither sibling decided on dentistry as early as their father, who knew in seventh grade that he would be a dentist. Joe was thinking about a medicine career as he majored in neuroscience as an undergrad at U-M. Hannah majored in bio-psychology, cognition and neuroscience, also at U-M, with an eye toward veterinary science. “You want to blaze your own path a little bit,” Joe said, “but then you kind of realize that maybe his path is the one you are supposed to be on anyway.” During his sophomore year in college, Joe began paying closer attention to his dad’s office routine. He also shadowed some of his dad’s dentist friends. “I really liked the rapport that my dad had built with his patients and the fact that he could go anywhere and see someone he knows. His hours were good, he was home all the time. Those kinds of things starting clicking together and I said I think this is the path I’m going to go on.”
For Hannah, her dad’s love of his job was convincing. “I think one of the biggest things I noticed is the job satisfaction he gets out of it,” she said. “He doesn’t really think of it as a job. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard him say, ‘I wake up in the morning and I’m excited to go to work.’ Just seeing him feel so happy and fulfilled with his job, that obviously added to the appeal of the career.”
Another element of the U-M dental school path that the three now have in common is a commitment to providing dental care for veterans. Phil’s father and uncles were in the military during World War II so he has embraced the idea of assisting veterans. When the School of Dentistry was looking to expand an original, award-winning veterans care outreach program called the Wolverine Patriot Project, Joe and several other students took the opportunity. The students made it their project for the school’s Pathways Program requirement.
Working with administrators, the students collaborated with dentists who had been part of the original veterans’ project and others who were already giving veterans special care. The new program, called Victors for Veterans, created a monthly clinic, centered out of Phil Yancho’s practice and a couple of other specialty clinics in the area around Traverse City. Students from the dental school have staffed the clinic over the last two years, with hundreds of veterans receiving more than $400,000 in dental care. Now Hannah and several classmates are joining the project as their own Pathways requirement. The clinic will be at Northern Michigan Health Services in Traverse City. Phil Yancho was among a group of doctors from the Resort District Dental Society involved in the project who received the 2017 Public Service Award from the Michigan Dental Association last April.
“It’s definitely the most rewarding work I’ve done in dental school, without a doubt,” Joe said. “The veterans know that the work that they’re getting done is free. A lot of them have been neglecting their dental care for years and years. The VA benefits for dental care are almost non-existent unless you are fully disabled. It’s super-rewarding because they will never complain and they thank you a million times.”
As he prepares for Joe’s graduation and watches Hannah head into her second year, Phil can’t help but think back on his own U-M dental school days. Yancho says his childhood dentist in Flint, Dr. J. Michael McKenna (DDS 1956), was the role model who guided him to dental school. “I always wanted a mixture of medicine and art, and I was always good with working with my hands, so it seemed like a good fit.” Phil remembers dental school as easier than advertised, probably because he just plain enjoyed what he was doing. And there was a valuable benefit beyond learning a profession: “The very first day, I met some of my friends for life.”
That camaraderie is still a hallmark of dental school today for his children, but so much else has changed since 1985 when Yancho was a member of what he calls “the last wet-fingered class” that didn’t wear gloves. “I’ll never forget being in sterilization in 1985 and they were talking about this new HIV thing and how it could kill you,” Yancho said. “And how when you get out of dental school you are going to be wearing gloves and masks. Everybody was pretty incredulous. We were like: Nah, that’s crazy talk. Then in Traverse City, I was probably one of the first dentists to wear gloves. When I graduated, it hadn’t really hit the public sector yet.”
Many other aspects of dentistry have changed in the years since. Although Yancho has kept pace through continuing education -- for example, in recent years he has expanded his cosmetic dentistry offerings -- he likes the idea of one or both of the next generation of Yanchos joining his practice. “I keep dangling the keys in front of them,” he says, meaning the keys to his office. “Maybe one of them will come back. It would be nice. I’d love it. We keep talking about Yancho, Yancho & Yancho Dentistry.”
But even if that doesn’t happen, the senior Yancho says he is thrilled with the career decisions made by all four of his children. His oldest, Amanda, is a nurse in Traverse City who gave birth in late March to the Yanchos’ first grandchild. Daughter Stasha is pursuing a career in computer programming, while currently teaching English in Moscow, Russia. “I always told them growing up: I do not care what you do in life, just be sure that you love it, and be the very best at it that you can be.”
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 email@example.com, or (734) 615-1971.