By Nancy LeBrun
Anderson “Drew” Ferguson IV practiced dentistry for more than 20 years in West Point, GA, where he grew up. A graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, he was always proud to be a “Doctor” – DDS, and to help maintain and restore the oral health of his patients.
For the past year-plus, however, Dr. Ferguson has been using a new title, “Congressman,” as in: The U.S. House of Representatives’ Congressman from Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District.
The leap from dedicated dentist to hard-working U.S. Congressman was not as grand as one might imagine.
“I think being a dentist prepares you for public service in a unique way,” he says during an exclusive interview with Incisor. “When you’re a dentist, somebody walks through that door with a problem that they want taken care of right then, and that’s not a whole lot different than what goes on in Congress. People come in with an issue, and you've got to work through those issues and talk to them and figure out the best solution.”
Congressman Ferguson’s district encompasses some of Atlanta’s southernmost suburbs and is home to part of Georgia’s enormous film and TV industry. Its heart, however, is in rural areas of the state.
We spoke to Congressman Ferguson at his modest district office outside Newnan, a small town often used as a filming location that is nothing if not quaint. The Congressman, 51, is an amiable man with salt-and-pepper hair that he wears in a tidy brush cut.
Congressman Ferguson notes that his grandfather was a surgeon. “I always admired the way he interacted with his patients,” he says.
That got him interested in health care. When he was about 14 years old, his dentist – Dr. Evan Martin – encouraged Ferguson to consider dentistry as a profession, telling him that, “it will be the last place you can really practice one-on-one with a patient.”
Ferguson took the advice to heart and went on to enroll in, and graduate from, the Medical College of Georgia before returning to West Point to open a family practice. His was small-town dentistry at its most traditional, with a big emphasis on preventive care.
“We learned over the years the procedures that we did well and could do to a very high standard,” he recalls, “and those things that we didn’t, we referred out. I did way more pediatric work than I ever dreamed that I would. When you're a family dentist in rural Georgia, you take care of the family.”
Dr. Ferguson found there was another challenge when it came to practicing in West Point. “Our town lost its manufacturing backbone about the time I was coming back from dental school. We came back to a community that was dying,” he explains.
A Wonderful Profession
“We reached a point where we had to make a decision either to stay in our community and fight for it or leave. We just weren’t able to have the kind of practice that I wanted and be able to provide for my family.” He chose to stay, and that led to a stint as an alderman, followed by a successful mayoral campaign in 2008. Mayor Ferguson gets credit for turning around West Point’s economy. Among other businesses, he helped attract a Kia Motor Corporation manufacturing plant to the area, along with its hundreds of jobs.
In 2016, Dr. Ferguson made his bid for Congress as a Republican and won easily in the deeply conservative district.
Congressman Ferguson feels that policymakers can learn from the dentistry profession. “I actually think dentistry has one of the best models in healthcare,” he comments.
That said, he adds, “We’re trained to take care of patients. That’s our passion, that’s what we work really hard to do. Now we’re seeing administrative burdens that are so heavy, so prescriptive, that we are spending less and less time with patients, and that’s never good for outcomes.”
Still, Congressman Ferguson is quite proud of his profession. He is still licensed and has no plans to let his credentials lapse, though he did sell his practice before becoming a member of Congress.
Looking back on his years as a dentist, the freshman congressman says, “It’s a truly wonderful profession.”