Dan Orr, one of the newest friends of the John A. Widtsoe Foundation, is a USC alumnus who has earned five professional degrees, currently runs his private medical practice and teaches as a professor and director of surgery and anesthesiology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine. Additionally, he has taught seminary for 18 years and counting. Read more below to learn about this interesting and accomplished man!
What can you tell us about your life growing up and before college?
I was raised in Whittier, CA. My dad was a USC Engineering graduate. My dad was also an Eagle Scout and war hero, having earned the Distinguished Flying Cross flying B-26’s in Korea. After every successful mission (meaning one survived the night) the flyers were given a fifth of alcohol to take to the officers’ club, so my dad became a life-long alcoholic. That was difficult. My younger sister, brother, and I were raised by my mom. My mom worked at least two and sometimes three jobs. My dad and mom have their temple work done and I have little doubt they are together now. My relationship with my dad taught me a great deal about forgiveness and also about the perfect love of Father, the One in charge of forgiving me. My dad and I reconciled before he passed away and I want nothing more than to get to know my Dad in the next sphere. Because of the Gospel I can now see beyond the alcohol.
You have a reputation as an outstanding oral and maxillofacial surgeon. How did you decide to pursue OMS as a career?
I went to an Eagle Scout career day event at USC Dental School in 8th grade in large part because I had a great dentist as a kid. I decided that day I wanted to become a dentist.
Very few people in our society have an advanced degree and yet you have a five! (D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., J.D., and M.D.) What has inspired you to continue pursuing formal education?
My mom always told me to get all the education I could. My mom was an actress (Pasadena Playhouse) who retired from acting after she became pregnant. I mentioned one day that that was too bad…thinking about the money we didn’t have when I was a kid. She then said that I was the baby that prompted the retirement…pros and cons I guess? Thanks for picking me, Mom!
After I finished my BYU B.S. and USC D.D.S., the education I “had” to have, I realized learning really is fun without the competitive pressures often associated with it. I just took advantage of opportunities as they came. I earned my M.S. (Anesthesiology) during my residency at Utah. There were only two awarded in the history of the program. The Ph.D. in Biophysics logically followed the M.S. I decided on the J.D. shortly after the first time I was sued. I couldn’t figure out why the case was even litigated so decided to go to law school to find out. By the time it was dismissed in my favor a year later I’d finished a year of law school and just decided to finish the project. It took me about 8 years for the entire course including passing the CA Bar in FEB 1998. That bar exam had a 36% pass rate, which was one of the lowest all-time. My #2 son Tim just passed the FEB 2018 CA Bar which set the record low at 27%. A lot of OMS also have M.D.s. Generally they are earned by extending the normal 4-year OMS residency to 6 years.
What advice would you give to those interested in seeking an advanced degree?
I don’t think advanced degrees are ultimately based on one’s innate intelligence, but primarily on one’s hard work. When I interview kids for dental school admission or prepare doctors for specialty training applications, my mantra includes: “Work hard, don’t complain/murmur, and be a problem solver, not a problem maker.” If the applicant is married, I interview the spouse too to make sure he/she is on board with supporting the student.
In addition to your professional commitments, you have taught seminary for well over a decade. How has teaching seminary been impacted your life in a positive way?
I just finished my 18th year, Book of Mormon, last Friday and I already miss the class (except for the getting up and 05:00 part) and the great kids I learn the Gospel with every day. I’ve started preparing for D&C in the Fall. I am so blessed to be called to teach the Gospel every day, and most Sunday’s too. I have a feeling Heavenly Father knows I need this call, and I appreciate so much that He hangs in there with my endless foibles.
How did you become involved with the Widtsoe Foundation?
I have always had kind of a love/hate relationship with USC after I graduated from dental school and completed my surgical residency. The training was at times not collegial at all, in fact borderline abusive. I was grateful for the outstanding education but not the process. Once I was able to be charitable financially, USC was never on my list of recipients because of my experiences there. One day a couple of years ago I visited the “new” Institute building and met Michael Stanley. I shared with him my love/hate relationship with USC and Michael introduced me to the Widtsoe Foundation. Later I met Larry Eastland. Finally, I had a great, greater than the surgical education I’d received there, reason to support USC fiscally. Thank you Michael and Larry.
Are there any particular initiatives or programs that you find most interesting?
Counting seminary, I still have 3 jobs, counting my private practice and being Professor and Director of Surgery and Anesthesiology at the UNLV School of Dental Medicine…plus a father of 9 kids. So, it’s hard to get down to LA from LV to see the great programs Widtsoe has developed. So far I’ve been very interested in all the programs, but just haven’t been able to attend.
What do you like to do for vacation?
If I can’t do some work on my vacations I go crazy. I love what I do and I love helping others. Fortunately I can usually write or research when I’m on vacation. Also, I usually have some of my 9 kids with me so they help keep me busy/entertained. Sitting on a beach simply drinking Kool Ade would truly drive me insane.
Do you have a personal of family slogan that you are willing to share?
I sign my email with: “cunctanter condemnovit, cursim condonovit.” It’s Latin and means: “he was slow to condemn and quick to forgive.” I hope to, in part, be remembered that way.
What are some of the events that you consider most impactful in your life?
The Boy Scouts played a huge part in my life. I’ve always considered the BSA my first “redeemer” in that I was not LDS. My dad wasn’t around when I was younger. The good men in the scouts saved me from making many bad decisions. Towards the end of high school, Elders Dave Eldredge and William Miller knocked on our door and thank heavens my mom let them in. My growth in the Church has been slow but steady. I cannot deny the truth of the Gospel now; that is a good feeling to have.
What exciting things do you see on the horizon for future generations? Any advice that you would like to pass along?
Wise pundits thought things were difficult in the 1960’s when I was a teenager. Ha. Those days were entry level challenges compared to what the youth have to deal with today. The answer is to seek advisors of merit in one’s life, someone who loves you and has “been there and done that” with regard to any of life’s questions one might have. Failure is part of success, embrace it and come back stronger and wiser. The world is at your feet as long as you have the Gospel in your life.
How would you describe your personal mission?
My mission is to have fun. I define fun as accomplishing things that bless the lives of others.