Zohair Qureshi is not your average orthodontist.
Just to know what his patients are going through, he watches shows and movies favored by the younger set, plays online video games with them and even wore braces for two years.
"It's an awkward, weird, sensitive time of life," he says. "I could be that guy who makes (a trip to the orthodontist) the best part of your day."
When Qureshi opens Braces of Greece on June 8 in a Fetzner Road building he has purchased, he will do so with fanfare: games, giveaways, face painting, a magician and clowns for the kids, with a ribbon-cutting celebration and generous discounts on orthodontic work. The price of admission: canned goods or a donation for the Greece Ecumenical Food Pantry.
The new practice is the culmination of years of persistence. Qureshi, 32, completed dental schooling in his native Pakistan, but his credentials didn't transfer when he moved to the United States to be with his wife, Mona. He had a hard time finding a job in a dental practice and finally took two positions that involved setting up and cleaning the office.
"My being a dentist meant absolutely nothing here," he says in a matter-of-fact tone. "I was tired of proving myself again and again, and now I was having to do it all over again."
Qureshi was accepted into several top U.S. dental schools. He decided on the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine and jumped in, determined to excel, working his way through each of his school breaks and serving as president of the senior class. He graduated in 2009 and finished an orthodontics residency last June. Until last week he worked as an associate in a Buffalo practice. Close to his former co-workers and patients, he says his last day was tear-filled.
But Qureshi knew he wanted a dental practice of his own. He also knew he wanted to set up in Western New York; on trips to conferences during college, he had checked out other areas and found none that was a better fit.
"I have yet to find friendlier, classier people," he says of Buffalonians, adding that Rochester folks are just as nice. "I can tell a born-and-raised Buffalonian."
Qureshi says he likes Western New York's work ethic. In Rochester-specifically Greece-he found a more vibrant economy and the room to grow his business. He liked the size of the suburb-with a population of 96,000, it rivals small cities-and the strong community feel. "I felt this was a neighborhood where I could fit," he says.
Still, opening a practice is a big investment and a leap of faith, adds Qureshi, whose daughter, Mahdiyah, was born three months ago.
"Part of me tells myself it's going to be OK, and part of me is scared," he admits.
He wants to make braces affordable to more people. To introduce himself to Greece, he is offering a $1,000 discount on orthodontia to people who come to the opening, as well as to police and firefighters and their families and friends.
The requested food donations for the grand opening are a way to help families who are scraping by. He talks of his passion to help hard workers who want their children to succeed-aptly describing his own parents, an auto mechanic father and teacher mother who each held two jobs to send all five of their kids to college. They lived in a two-bedroom, 800-square-foot apartment in Karachi. He says "saints in the background" helped when times were tough, and he wants to pass it on.
Qureshi plans to immerse himself fully in the community. Braces of Greece sponsors all 24 teams in the town's Little League. He's also offering a large multipurpose room at the office for non-profit groups to use at no cost, envisioning everything from PTA meetings to yoga classes.
He's come up with some creative ways to make his patients more comfortable too. Qureshi wore braces for two years, even though he didn't really need them, so he could experiment with different wires and see what his patients meant when they described pain.
With parental permission, he logs in from home to challenge his patients to online video games as a way to get them to wear their headgear. He sends automated text messages reminding them to wear their rubber bands.
"It just makes more sense to me to be a person than to just be a doctor," he says.
Qureshi plans to see patients five days a week, offering early and late hours on various days to accommodate a wide range of schedules-unlike some orthodontists who fit all their patients into three days a week.
"I can be me in a five-day practice," he says. "I don't have to be somebody else."
Qureshi also acknowledges he is in the business of appearance. He has a deal with the nearby Empire Beauty School to provide free up-dos and other salon services to patients on the day they get their braces on and the day the braces come off. A local photographer takes glamour shots that patients can buy.
"I'm looking into making raving fans," he says. "I'm popping with ideas, and I'm so excited about this venture."
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