When you say the name Julie Thomas at Heartland Dental, its likely people’s ears will perk up or someone will chime in with a heartwarming story about her. Julie joined Heartland Dental thirty years ago before it transformed into what we know it to be today. Her husband, John, played basketball with a dentist who was looking for someone to fill in for his dental hygienist who was out due to surgery. So, during the first two weeks of having her dental license, Julie filled in as Dr. Workman’s dental hygienist. Eventually, the original hygienist came back and Julie spent a couple years working in her hometown of Salem, IL. Through the grapevine, Julie heard that Dr. Workman was looking for another full-time dental hygienist, and in September 1987, she joined the office and their friendship began to form.
“One of the reasons I truly loved, and still do love, working with Dr. Workman is because everything he does it about providing the best dentistry to our patients and growing his people,” said Julie. “Through the years, Debbie and I would be traveling and we’d have to stop at a pay phone to call him because he’d want to know about our day and the patients we saw or what was happening in a supported office. He was always encouraging us, honestly past what we thought we were capable of. It was his faith in us that caused us to have so much success.”
When Heartland Dental was small, a few people in the office volunteered to train the new people, which is how management and leadership roles began to form. In the early days, Julie was one of the Vice Presidents of Operations.
“I remember one day Dr. Workman and I were talking, and he asked me to take on a Vice President role. I said, ‘Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it.’”
Julie says she'll take on whatever role is needed. She currently serves as Director of Operations, which is a great fit for her passion to support Heartland Dental's growth, the growth of supported doctors and team members.
Around the turn of the century, Dr. Workman and Julie took a step away from their clinical responsibilities and began focusing on growing the company and their leadership roles full-time. Julie spent a lot of time traveling and working to help Dr. Workman expand the company. Along the way, her husband was her biggest support system and enabled her success. The couple is a dynamic duo and both have a strong work ethic, which their instilled in their two children Broch and Taylor.
At an early age, Broch developed a passion for dentistry like his mother and set out to become a dentist. He used to practice on old extracted teeth that a dentist saved for him. At the age of 17, he became a dental assistant, Debbie Steppe was his instructor, and spent his summers and holiday breaks being immersed in the industry. Before dental school, Broch went to undergraduate school at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Here, he met his wife, Zara, who also now works for Heartland Dental.
Zara was originally pursuing a career as an elementary education teacher, but upon graduation, realized it wasn’t the right path for her. She talked to Julie about what options could potentially be available for her at Heartland Dental and interviewed for a position as a Business Assistant.
“Julie lovingly said, ‘I’ll give you an email address of someone to reach out to, but after that you’re on your own,’” smiled Zara.
She landed the role and after performing well was quickly promoted to an Office Manager at a different supported office. After Broch graduated from SIUE, he attended dental school at Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health in Mesa, AZ. (At the age of 14, he actually met the dean of the school and knew from that day he wanted to eventually attend dental school there.) In order to move with Broch, Zara took a position at an Arizona supported office as a Practice Administrator and later transitioned to be a member of the Affiliations Integration Team.
When Broch graduated from dental school, the couple moved yet again to Florida, where they currently live. In July 2016, Broch became a supported dentist at Family Dental of Fort Myers, and Zara now serves as a Leadership Training Developer.
Broch’s sister, Taylor, on the other hand was very determined not to be part of the dental industry.
“I can’t even tell you why,” she said. “At the time, it just didn’t interest me, and I wanted to be my own person. I just wanted to do something different than what my mom and brother wanted.”
Taylor and her husband, Josh, lived in Italy for a period of time when Josh was deployed, and Taylor served the Director of Operations for two ftiness center on base. When the couple was on the verge of moving back, Taylor began having conversations with Zara about her career at Heartland Dental.
“Everything Zara did sounded really interesting. She talked about being on the business and leadership side of things, and mentioned all the training she received. I witnessed the investment Heartland Dental made in my mom, but hearing it from someone else really made it click for me,” said Taylor.
When Taylor told Julie she was interested in joining Heartland Dental, Julie was surprised, but not shocked.
“I think she was surprised because I was always so against dentistry, but she always told me I would be good at it. Maybe this was her plan all along,” she laughed.
Similar to helping Zara, Julie gave Taylor an email address and left her to go through the process on her own.
“In a way, I was grateful for that,” said Taylor. “I love my mom – she’s one of my biggest support systems, but I didn’t want people to think I only got the job or achieved success because my mom had worked at Heartland Dental for so long.”
After six months of interviewing, Taylor joined the Heartland Dental family.
She has been with the company for three years and currently serves as a Practice Manager of Operations in Ft. Myers, FL, where she lives near her brother and parents.
Taylor and Broch have had the opportunity to work together on a couple occasions, and have participated in Free Dentistry Days together. Free Dentistry Day is an event held by a supported office where free dental work is given to the supported office’s community.
“We’re very proud of our children and their significant others,” said John. “All four of them have big hearts, and their willingness to invest in people and help others is really touching.”
With five out of seven family members being part of the Heartland Dental network, the Thomas family has a lot invested in Heartland Dental. Perhaps not by accident, they may have even recruited one more member of the clan to join Heartland Dental – Taylor’s husband.
“I’ve seen how much my wife has grown personally and professionally, and I’m so proud of her,” said Josh. “I see what Julie, Broch and Zara have accomplished with the company and it’s inspiring too. I’ll graduate this fall with a bachelor’s degree, and I’m very open to a position with Heartland Dental. Because of my military background, the leadership side of things interests me the most.”
(After this article was published, we learned Josh accepted a position with Heartland Dental as Practice Manager of Operations. Julie said he too was given a contact name and left to this own accord. Congratulations, Josh!)
Julie is optimistic about the future for anyone interested in joining Heartland Dental, family or otherwise.
“There are people who haven’t even joined the company yet who will grow into the leaders, supported doctors and team members that we need to reach new levels of success,” she said. “Knowing my family will be contributors to that success gives me a really good feeling. I have to admit it’s a little weird when I hear one of them talk about Heartland Dental systems because I remember when a handful of us were gathered in a room developing those systems,” she said. “And for anybody who thinks, ‘I wish I could have been there when it all started.’ I would tell them that right now is the beginning. We’re not anywhere close to where we’re going to be in years to come. We’re just getting started.”