SOMERS, N.Y. – Dr. Rick Bridgham has prompted thousands of smiles both in and out of the orthodontic chair since he came to Somers 21 years ago.
Whether it’s a result of a joke cracked during a visit with a patient or an act of kindness carried out through one of the many community organizations of which he is a member, friends and colleagues say Bridgham has made a positive difference in Somers. Chosen as this year’s “Person of the Year” by the Somers Chamber of Commerce, President Matt Grasso said Bridgham “exemplifies Somers.” He will be presented the award June 7 at Villa Barone in Mahopac.
Bridgham, a White Plains native, came to Somers in 1996 upon completion of his orthodontic specialist certification at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He immediately opened his practice, Bridgham Smiles, in a 1,300 square-foot office in the Colonial Court Building on Route 116.
Now the business has relocated, expanded to 4,000 square feet and undergone an identity change after Bridgham promoted Dr. Anita Barr, who joined the practice in 2013, to partner last year. Although it is now called Bridgham Barr Orthodontics, the philosophical ideals that employees say make the business stand out, are still going strong.
Amy Zeno, office manager at the practice for the last 19 years, describes the office as atypical in that the entire staff employs a “do unto others” mentality. In addition to ensuring that every patient has a quality experience and receives cutting-edge treatment, Zeno said, the staff is consistently engaged in contributing to the community at large and involving its patients in the process.
In addition to allowing patients and residents to use office space for their charities’ collection boxes, Zeno said, there is a special emphasis on encouraging the patients to contribute to whatever cause the practice has its hands in at the moment. Young patients in particular are rewarded with gold stars for good brushing habits and receive extra for dropping pennies into collection boxes.
“If we teach children right from the get-go how to help others within the community, that’s a lifelong accomplishment,” Zeno said. The hope, she added, is that they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives.
According to Bridgham, Zeno is “the queen” of generating ideas in the way of giving back and credits her with ensuring the practice’s success as a leader in community service.
Bridgham said he has always had an interest in others and his community, but admits it wasn’t until he moved to Somers and joined the Lions Club that he incorporated giving back full-time into his lifestyle.
“That was one of the greatest things altogether that occurred when I moved in the town,” he said. “I learned quickly what it means for people to be involved and the impact individuals can make toward the betterment of their community.”
Since coming to Somers, Bridgham has served as past president of the Somers Lions Club, was a charter representative for three Scout groups in Somers, and was an assistant Cubmaster for Somers Cub Scouts Pack 1. He also spearheaded the effort to participate in the Somers Relay for Life event by creating the Bridgham Barr Believers in 2014, Barr said, and has raised over $52,000 over the last three years.
As a young man at White Plains High School, Bridgham enjoyed socializing and participated in track and cross country. His first leadership role was as a chairperson on the Prom Planning Committee, which, he said, was the first taste he had of the impact a group can have on people outside of themselves.
The road from high school athlete/prom chairperson to Somers Person of the Year was not a straight shot, however.
Initially, Bridgham pursued higher education with the intention of coming out a businessman on the other side of four years. It wasn’t until he was studying to be an engineer at the State University at Stony Brook that he discovered his passion for sciences. He didn’t know at the time that he would eventually get to incorporate both.
During his four years there, his friends were members of the student-run volunteer ambulance corps. They introduced him to emergency medicine when he found himself an unwitting witness and participant in the recovery of a classmate’s accidentally severed finger. After seeing the ambulance corps’ response and the eventual role the doctors had in the student’s recovery, Bridgham said, he thought, “That’s what I want to do.”
He dove in, working as an EMT at the university hospital’s emergency room and eventually becoming chief of the ambulance corps. However, after graduating with a bachelors in biology, he had reservations about his chosen path. He worried that the life of a health professional might not lend to his dreams of having a family and belonging to a community.
The shift toward dentistry happened during a routine visit to his own dentist, who, after chatting, suggested Bridgham give it a try himself.
“I realized that this is well within the same scope and [people] were always saying, ‘What a great smile you have,’ and I loved hearing that from others,” Bridgham said. “I thought one day, ‘What if I could give others a great smile and have a business.’ It all came together.”
He took the next year off to prepare for the dental exam and the eight-year journey through dental school that would follow. He earned his doctorate in dental surgery at the University of Loyola in Chicago. After a general practice residency at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, he completed three years of orthodontic residency at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.
Looking back as a married man and father of two sons, Bridgham is content with the path he chose.
Additionally, he said, he’s enjoyed his field due to the advances in technology that have kept it evolving.
“It’s just been extremely rapid,” he added. “I’ve enjoyed staying on top of that curve, which is part of the reason why I brought Dr. Barr in a few years ago, to make sure we can maintain that velocity.”
Barr is also happy to have joined the practice and called Bridgham an “incredible person and a very talented orthodontist.”
“I feel lucky to have the opportunity to become part of the practice and work so harmoniously with someone who has the same treatment philosophy, is so patient-centered and is a great leader,” she said.
She added that Bridgham’s love of the town is evident and that he was a passionate ambassador for Somers when she and her husband were looking for a home in Westchester County.
“I certainly was humbled by the nature of what it means to be citizen of the year in a town that is filled with so many great people,” Bridgham said, adding that he accepts the award, but appreciates it as a cumulative effort of many, particularly his “phenomenal staff” and the many organizations and people that have “fed the sensation of how wonderful” it is to be a part of the Somers community.
“I can’t underemphasize that this award is represented by my family, my staff and just all the people that I’ve met along the way,” he said.