The biggest reward for us are the smiles of the people, even in times when they are hidden behind masks

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, "Diplomatic Spectrum" decided on a new column: "Doctors - Pride of Bulgaria". The first guests we invited were Dr. Veneta Pavlova and Dr. Valentin Pavlov, founders and directors of the largest chain of dental clinics in our country - EO Dent. Why? At the end of last year, the World Confederation of Business /WORLDCOB/ awarded them with the BEYOND SUCCESS 2019 award. A huge recognition for them, for the EO Dent dental clinics, and for Bulgaria! Today, however, we had to update the interview with the most important questions of the day related to COVID-19. Because in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, they are still first!

The two doctors were born in the town of Pernik. Both graduated in dentistry at the Faculty of Dental Medicine at the Medical University in Sofia.

Today Dr. Veneta Pavlova is one of our best specialists in the field of dental aesthetics, and Dr. Valentin Pavlov - in surgery and implantology. Together they manage a chain of nine dental clinics with a team of over 350 professionals in various fields of dental medicine! They treatand bring back the smiles on the faces of thousands of Bulgarians. Many Bulgarian and foreign stars have entrusted their image to them. Among them is the famous actor Sylvester Stallone, who on his departure from Bulgaria wrote on their impressions wall: "For great work! You are masters! With love, Sylvester Stallone! "

- Dr. Pavlova, you like to say that you work for people's smiles. How did COVID-19 affect them?

- In the beginning we certainly did not see the smiles, because they were hidden behind the masks. People were definitely scared, and you could see it in their eyes. But we were at work and every patient who needed urgent care received it. Of course, we complied with all anti-epidemic measures and provided security and peace of mind. We wanted the smile to shine, calm and confident, even if hidden behind a mask. We wanted to lift the spirits of our patients and neighbors so during the state of emergency, on May 6th, we organized a concert from the balcony of EO Dent, whose slogan was: "Let us make you smile behind the masks!". The host was Maria Sylvester, the singer - Iva Davidova, both our patients. Our audience was our neighbors from the blocks around, whose terraces overlook the courtyard of the clinic. To inform them about the event, we had previously placed small national flags in their mailboxes with a message about the concert. By doing so we wanted to raise the Bulgarian spirit. The talented Iva Davidova sang songs about St. George's Day and about Bulgaria. It was a very nice and pleasant celebration. And we managed to make people smile behind the masks!

- Dr. Pavlov, you are the only representative of the dental profession, a member of the Medical Expert Council at the Council of Ministers, which was formed in order to prepare protocols with recommendations to the medics in Bulgaria to prevent COVID-19. What guidelines were given for the dental treatment?

- For our professional group it was very important to be represented in this council, whose chairman is Prof. Kosta Kostov, an expert in lung diseases. The protocol for the dental treatment we created gives guidelines to the dentists on how to work during the pandemic - from the very reception of the patient, through his treatment and subsequent observation, to his final cure. The recommendations are both for working with patients who are not ill and those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The protocol emphasizes the personal protective equipment, the strict application of anti-epidemic means, and the control of possible intra-hospital infections.

According to the protocol for dental treatment, as you saw when entering our clinic, first the hands are disinfected, then the temperature is measured, a declaration is filled in, in which the patient informs whether he was quarantined on arrival from abroad, whether he has had contact with an infected person, has he or she already been infected, etc. In fact, a detailed history is taken when booking an appointment by phone. Even if the patient has COVID-19 and the case is urgent, instructions are given over the phone on how to overcome the problem, by the time he or she can be treated. The dentists who take care of it must be equipped with special protective equipment; we also have a specially created office.

In fact, I must point out that our clinics are very well equipped and there has never been a time when masks, work clothes, disinfectants, etc. went missing. What we additionally ordered were only the special overalls for the doctors, who would eventually have contact with infected patients, if necessary. But so far we have not had such patients.

We care about every member of our team. And at the very beginning of the epidemic, we tested all our medics and all the staff to give them and the patients the peace of mind they needed. We instructed the whole team on how to work during the pandemic and of course, as it has always been the case with us, our clinics are disinfected perfectly.

- Have you already returned to the normal work rhythm?
Pavlova: Almost. In the beginning, there was a sharp decline in the number of patients. And one doctor at the clinic was enough, especially in the first weeks, to handle emergencies. Now, at this stage, we are back to normal. But as we said during the last staff meeting, now the measures in the country are being relaxed, but with us they become stricter. Because the flow of patients is getting bigger. I am personally happy that we have withstood this challenge.

- Two months ago you received a big award - the BEYOND SUCCESS 2019 award. Where, when and by whom was it given to you?
Pavlova: This award was presented to us at the solemn ceremony of awarding the world business awards THE BIZZ 2019! It took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last November and brought together business elites from around the world: Mexico, the Philippines, Argentina, Sweden, Peru, Nigeria, Angola, Romania, Cuba, Senegal, South Korea, Russia, Slovakia , Portugal, Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil, UAE and many other countries. THE BIZZ World Business Awards are established as awards by the World Confederation of Business (WORLDCOB) and are presented by it annually.

In fact, this is not our first Confederation award. It has been following us for years. Dental Clinic EO Dent was already awarded another prize - PEAK OF SUCCESS, in 2017.

- What is the thing that made the World Confederation of Business distinguish you as the best in the world twice already?
Pavlov: Surely it is the high professionalism, sustainability and growth in our business. In fact, Dr. Pavlova and I perceive the awards as a great recognition for the hard work of the entire team of EO Dent clinics. Without its professionalism and dedication, we could not achieve anything.

- How did your career start?
Pavlova: We are sure that in one's professional path one never forgets the beginning. For us it was 20 years ago. The moment you finish your education, you start looking for a way to develop, a way to make your dreams come true. We started from a garage in Pernik - me and my husband.

- Like Steve Jobs ...
Pavlov: That's right. We first started working in the state dental clinic, but there was already an opportunity to develop a private practice and we decided that we would take a risk and try to start our own business. So we rented a garage, where we managed to create all the necessary conditions and comfort for our patients and started working.

- Which qualities of yours played the biggest role in your way up?
Pavlova: I am a very sincere person and I try to show people that I care about them, that for me everyone is special - both in my relations with the staff and in the care of patients. I love creating pleasant emotions and surprises, I constantly have ideas inspire my teams. And here is the moment to thank Dr. Pavlov for the support and security he gives to all of us.

A very important moment in our development is the constant strive to offer the best and to develop professionally. Even back then, in the first years of our private practice, we went through a series of specializations - at home and abroad. This is a very important stage in our growth and development as professionals and managers. So it was time to close the cycle - to add three more offices to the first one, to be able to offer X-rays and physiotherapy. We managed to unite a team, albeit small, of about 10 people in the beginning, as a small family with which to start walking together on the road and take complex care of our patients. Thus, in 2002 the first EO Dent clinic in Pernik was launched. We are proud that from the moment of its launch until today it continues to work 24/7 and there is not a day in the year in which we have left the patients of the city and the municipality without dental care.

- Then, at the very beginning, how far ahead did you plan for the development of your activity? What was behind the decision and the confidence to create the largest dental clinics chain in our country?
Pavlov: The courage to go beyond the comfort zone and take risks. But we have always looked for the best option for this risk. Because risk is also a chance. We react quickly: new equipment is released, with new, more modern options for dental treatment. We sit down and decide without delay whether we should have it? Yes, we should! And we invest without hesitation. This was probably the main engine in the beginning. We did not plan to have a chain of dental clinics one day. Rather, we moved step by step, periodically analyzing the achievements and the opportunities that would bring us to the next step - both for the development of our team and for even higher quality in the prevention and treatment of our patients. Step by step from the garage we created a full cycle for complex treatment. The idea to create another branch in Pernik followed. We made a mobile dentist's office to reach hard-to-reach areas and treat people there. Then our ambitions turned our gaze to Sofia. We chose the Lyulin district, where our first metropolitan clinic was, then we launched a branch on Arsenalski, Dianabad. We also planned the Specialized Children's Dental Clinic EO Dent.
Pavlova: We are very proud of it, because we have thought of every detail in it - from the sensory room to control fear, through children's play areas and motivation, to childrens’ and teenagers' specialized offices and modern operating theaters. And our latest project is the first Bulgarian-German implantology and surgery clinic on Cherni Vrah Blvd., created following German standards. Only implantology and surgery are performed in it, there is also a modern training center for our teams. In October 2017, the Specialized Orthodontic Clinic opened its doors. And now we have a specialized center for prevention and oral hygiene with modern devices for the treatment of periodontitis.
Pavlov: I think that now we have reached a much more mature stage and we are developing in the direction of creating specialized clinics - not a complex clinic that offers everything from treatment of children to implants, aesthetics, lasers, etc., but to separate specialized clinics in various profiles of our activity, each of which has a completely closed cycle in its respective expertise.

- So you completely cover the modern global concept of personalization?
Pavlova: This came in a natural way. From the very beginning we all did everything, but our profession is responsible and creative, in it you become a really good and sought-after professional when you specialize, not when you are good at everything. And it is very important to specialize on what is closest to your heart. That is why we monitor our teams very carefully and keep constant feedback with each colleague in order to encourage and develop them through specializations in the areas that interest them.
Pavlov: We are the first and currently the only university accredited clinic in Bulgaria for the specialization of dentists. We have wonderful orthodontists, endodontists, great implant surgeons, aesthetic specialists who deal with smile design, amazing pediatric specialists. And this is how we come to such a modern personalization - a treatment plan is made for the patient and the different specialists start working on it. Modern dentistry allows through special anesthesia (sedation) all this to happen with just one visit in complete comfort, without pain and fear, while sleeping. And when you wake up you have a healthy and transformed smile.

- Is there a difficult moment in your professional path, which you now remember with nostalgia and look at as an important lesson?
Pavlova: When we were less, it was easier, because Dr. Pavlov and I care a lot about our people and cherish the contact with them. We are sure that everyone has their own, unique distinctive qualities, which will surely be manifested and that they can achieve "miracles" if the necessary environment is created for them. In fact, it's harder now. The more we get, the harder it is to maintain this daily direct contact. The chain's staff already numbers over 350 people. My most important lesson from all these years is that you should always look for the good traits in people and develop them!

- How do you diagnose them?
Pavlov: With human conversations. Conversations in which you understand what interests they have, what dreams they want to achieve in order to feel calm and secure. It is difficult to listen to each of these 350 people every day, but here come the medical managers of the clinics, managers, head and senior nurses and X-ray technicians. We invest a lot in them, with courses in management and leadership. Their role is to protect, guide and support the team. Not only professionally, but also personally.

-What does it mean for you to be successful?
Pavlova: I have a good phrase that leads us and it is: "A person is successful when he puts his heart into the work and carries the work in his heart." Everything must be done from the heart. Fame, as a companion to success, does not excite us. More important is the feeling that people sincerely believe they can count on us. Success is first and foremost a huge responsibility.

- As a person who works for a smile, how important is it in business?
Pavlova: It is priceless! It really is the first step to success! I draw strength and energy when our patients smile happily! Our priority is to be useful and to help, to give health and smiles, to unite around socially significant causes and to realize them together with our teams. EO Dent has been awarded many international prizes - The Best Clinic, The Bizz, golden badge and golden seal for European healthcare management and many others, but for us the biggest prize is the sparkle in the eyes and the smiles of our happy patients!

- If you have to summarize the reasons for the success of EO Dent in these 18 years of existence, what will you think of first?
Pavlov: Over the years we have implemented two social projects - "Quality life for our parents" and "Treatment of children with special needs". They have become a cause for the whole team. And that is our greatest wealth, the people who selflessly take care of healthy and beautiful smiles! When you know that for 18 years, they have followed their dreams, grown professionally, shared good and difficult moments with you, it gives you strength and faith that you are on the right path. That is why we are grateful to each member of the amazing team of EO Dent. We are grateful to fate for merging our paths into a common cause - to help, heal, to make people smile and make our patients happy!

- Maybe fate pushes your children to take your path. Also, the abbreviation EO Dent itself is one of the first letters of their names...
Pavlova: Yes. The name of the clinics comes from the first letters of their names - E from Eva, our daughter, and O from Ognyan, our son. Currently, they both are students at the Faculty of Dental Medicine at the Medical University in Sofia, and are also helping at the clinic. But by no means did my husband and I think they should go our way at all costs. We did not want this from them, we did not force them. It just happened somehow naturally.

The photos are provided by EO Dent clinics. Photographer: Lilia Yotova

Above: Dr. Veneta Pavlova and Dr. Valentin Pavlov, founders and directors of the chain of dental clinics EO Dent

First and second row: the team of dental clinics EO Dent; moments from the award ceremony of the World Confederation of Business /WORLDCOB/ - BEYOND SUCCESS 2019, November 2019, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Dr. Valentin Pavlov during surgery; Dr. Veneta Pavlova and Dr. Valentin Pavlov at the celebration on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the clinic.

Third row. Acknowledgments:

- The European Association for Quality Research and Evaluation (ESQR) presented EO Dent with the International Diamond Prize for Excellence in Quality. Dr. Pavlova at the official award ceremony, December 9th 2015, Schönbrunn Park Hotel, Vienna;

- The European Business Assembly /EBA/ awarded EO Dent with the international prize BEST CLINIC 2014. The main goal of the EBA awards is to determine annually the best companies and achievements in the field of European healthcare. Dr. Pavlov receives the award, July 2nd 2014, Stresa, Italy;

- European Award for Corporate Social Responsibility. At the presentation of the first European CSR awards Dental Clinic EO Dent, as a national winner presented Bulgaria and won the prize in the category of small and medium enterprises with the project "Chance for Equal Quality of Life and Happiness for All". The official ceremony in Brussels, 2013;

- EO Dent are holders of the prestigious awards "Golden Stamp" - for European healthcare management, and "Golden Book" - for winning high prestige and contribution to Bulgarian healthcare. Drs. Pavlovi accepted the awards, November 30th 2011, at the Institute of Balkan Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.