He tweets, talks on the radio, blogs, writes for The Irish Times, is a fan of MacGyver, shut down his business but rallied on, and used Twitter to get published in The Irish Times. I was lucky enough to ask this fellow Tipperary dweller a few questions to find out who is the man behind @ShirtnTie. I had to think like MacGyver to write these questions and I am happy to report that I know a lot more about the dental surgeon and media darling that is Nenagh man, Paul O’Dwyer.
Being a ‘keen observer of radio, television and newspapers,’ Paul has managed to be interesting and engaging on Twitter. I am intrigued to find out if he ever did any media training. ‘I have never completed any media training whatsoever.’ Mhhh they say good writers don’t need to do any writing courses, they just write, re-write and edit. The same can be said of social media. Observation is key.
The main thing that piped my interest was your Twitter bio. ‘Father to their Imperial Majesties/Husband to Her Royal Highness. Dental Surgeon. Writer. Gun Jumper & occasional Foot Shooter. ‘
How long have you been on Twitter and does it help you with your media work? ‘The idea behind the “bio” on Twitter is to give the casual passerby enough to understand my priorities in life (my family) without intruding on my family’s privacy. – Hence my wife is referred to as “HRH” = Her Royal Highness.
Also, most bios try very hard to be funny – it’s hard to get the balance right. I was accused by someone of “jumping the gun” on a recent project – hence “gun jumper” – and by “jumping the gun” I had “shot myself in the foot”!! I thought the two metaphors worked well.’ I like that, I often change my bio…it is tricky getting the right balance. Ya see….Paul observes, thinks then writes. It is obvious he a great capacity for communication and the media.
Paul comes across as a modest man and just about mentions his media work on Twitter. ‘I’ve been on Twitter since April 2009. I don’t really use Twitter (as such) for media stuff. It’s never really been an issue. I have mentioned my column in the Irish Times – and the infrequent media appearances.’ Personally, I don’t do modest. I tweet everything, in my defence I followed #TeamFollow guideline when I first started…think I will jump ship to cool camp of Pauls thinking or should I say tweeting!
On your Twitter profile you have a cartoon rather than a picture, why a cartoon rather than an actual picture? (I also use cartoon drawings rather my actual pic….I like being a tad anonymous and maybe mysterious!)
‘Well spotted!! The idea of using a cartoon is a popular one with Twitter users. There are 2 reasons I choose to use it :
(1) The picture is of a hero of mine President John F Kennedy. It comes from the White House President’s Day competition and was coloured in from a copy ((obviously) of the famous portrait of President Kennedy that hangs there) each year in the WH, children are treated to a tour of it and a colouring competition of the portraits of former Presidents. This is one that was completed in 2006.
(2) A lot of folks on Twitter use pictures of themselves – usually badly taken via the camera on their lap top with this eerie glow. These snaps become indistinguishable from each other as you scroll through your time line. The strong orange colour background of this snaps makes the avatar stand out. Also, President Kennedy lends a certain air of “gravitas” to the account…no?’
Paul I really dig that, you should have a read of Inis Magazine. They write the most interesting articles about children’s books illustrators. There is so much more to graphics/pictures, they do after all paint a thousand words.
‘I should also add, I am very dubious of Twitter users who don’t share either there real name/avatar OR their location. Using a moniker on twitter is fine – provided the real name is on the account. Users who use BOTH a moniker AND fail to mention real name AND pic = no-no.’ Yes, I agree. Have a cool moniker, fair enough, but share your real name and a general idea of where you live.
You have been talking about children’s dental health with Dave Fanning on 2FM,South East Radio, Moncrieff, even tweeted: ‘On the show today: : @ShirtnTie about dentistry; India’s lost emperor; why don’t we know our neighbours?; life in Elizabethan England……’
‘The recent splash on the airwaves comes through my new role of Group Clinical Director with the Smiles Dental Group. I was appointed in January 2012. I don’t mention it in my Twitter profile, as my account is purely personal.’
I understand that you graduated from UCC in 1997, what were your hopes for the future back then? On graduating UCC in 1997, Paul had plans for his future never know government cuts would slash them I initially had a future in academia in mind. I actually returned and lectured in UCC in 1999-2000. However in 2000, I got married and plans changed – I opened in Newport, Co Tipperary in November 2000. My idea was to establish a single-man practice in Tipperary with a view to writing/research. I intended to work till retirement there – with a view to perusing academic interests/teaching and also fiction writing. (I’m a published short-story writer too!!!)’
I adore the short story, but it far too much hard work to write one. Please do share the links or names of publications you are published in.
Due to state cuts, you had no choice other than to close your rural dental practice. What is life like one year later? ‘Yes. In October 2010, I closed my practice. The cutbacks meant that it was impossible (long term) to continue in a rural practice. It was a very painful and traumatic time. It still is to be brutally honest. Being part and parcel of a rural community for 10 years, to invest time, money and expertise into a business that you’ve given your heart and soul too – then facing no decision but to close – is impossible to put into words. I am currently (and will for some 10 years) be paying off the loans/capital expenditure I invested in my practice – a most bitter pill to swallow after 10 years of incredible toil.
The Irish Times Column’s history is an interesting one. It involves Twitter!!
As I faced the decision to close, I struggled to make sense of what had just happened. In society, we tend to view Dentists as hovering in popularity somewhere between Clamper and Banker. I don’t agree with it, but that’s just how it is….Just as we see Teachers as having 3 months paid holidays, Gardai getting mega-overtime, Consultants over-paid salaries etc etc etc. Our perceptions of other professions are based on assumptions without facts. I find this unsettling. Particularly, as I have relatives and friends in all of the above categories who could easily put you straight on these assumptions.
There was no voice for dentists. The point I also wished to make was that while we may not all go “boo hoo” for the dentist – ultimately it is the patients who will suffer. The best way I can describe this is like saying : “They’re closing A&E Department…..Serves those doctors right!!!” ?!?!?!
My practice closed in 2010. In the ten years I was there I diagnosed THREE cases of oral cancer. Who’s there now? No-one. How will my 80-90 year old (non-driving) patients access dentistry now? A drive into Limerick…some 8 miles?
The cuts will close (and have closed) other practices since time of writing that piece.
It is a terrible feeling to realise at 38, your future and life’s work (to date) is now over. Dentists are highly skilled, bright, self-motivated professionals – (they represent in Leaving Cert Results Table – the top 5% of the country)
Look at the newspapers every August. CAO Points are 575, these are the brightest and the best – providing a health benefit to the population at large – and yet successive governments have punished them? We also spend a lot of Tax Payers money training them? It makes no sense. With this in mind, and more importantly my ex-patients in mind – I wrote the piece “Why I’m closing my practice”. Through a Twitter contact I managed to get it in front of the Editor of the Health Supplement. They published.’
It is difficult to hit the right tone in writing, getting an opportunity is one thing but getting the public to be interested in what you have to say, is quite difficult. Paul stuck a cord with the public and ‘what happened next was completely unexpected.’
Paul was published in the online version in a supplement and was shocked to learn that ‘the piece became the MOST READ *and* the MOST EMAILED story of the web version of the Irish Times for 36 hours!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I understand that it was only the 2nd time in the Irish Times Web history that a “supplement” piece outshone the main paper?! Then the fun really started. Marian Finnucane, Matt Cooper, Sunday Tribune and RTE Prime Time television – all in the space of 10 days.
While it highlighted the issue in a positive light for dentists, I found the experience both nerve wracking and also very invasive. For example, a well known “opinion forum” openly discussed my fate – some actually gloating, others suggesting I was lying and yet more still saying “it served me right” ?!?!?! None of these anonymous “contributors” gave their real names – hence my rules above. And NONE of them knew me, or were patients of mine. Go figure?
In any case, when the hub-bub died down, the Irish Times Health Supplement Editor asked me to undertake a dental column in the Health Supplement – monthly. This proved a welcome break – both for writing and income. It also helped me to raise awareness for dental topics that have been completely neglected for years. It was (and remains) the first and only full time Dental Column in any National Newspaper – ever!
Following on from the Irish Times and given my profile within our very small profession, I was approached by CEO of Smiles Dental Group to head up their Clinical Advisory Board. This wide ranging role includes Communications and Media. It’s very different from my life 2 years ago!’
Paul you are the Irish Come Back Kid! Thank you for showing there is life after cuts. I think it is great that you are doing so much work in the media, any advice on people trying to break into media?
‘I haven’t “broken in” myself yet – but when I do I’ll send back word! I do know that as long as you have something important to say – and you can deliver it in a well crafted/respectful way – you may get a hearing. HOWEVER, once you lose currency/popularity – you’re yesterday’s news. This is a very difficult pill to swallow.’
On a lighter note, I see by your blog that you met your hero, The MacGyver, you say he was a great guy….does he know that you used the nickname he gave you for your social media persona? ‘RDA is a pure gent. I’m pretty sure he knows the story. A mutual friend told him!!’