Leadership in tripartite begins in dental school

Each level of the tripartite structure of organized dentistry offers valuable benefits and resources to dentists across California, including education, protection, support and advocacy. None of it would be possible without the foresight of thousands of dentists, and that leadership begins in the state’s dental schools.

Soon-to-be dentists across the state are active at their respective schools recruiting volunteers for dental clinics, leading efforts on CDA committees, serving as trustees for the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), attending professional meetings and more. They do it because they understand that their careers depend on dentists making the decisions that will both preserve and maintain the profession, as well as serve patients.

Wade Banner, class of 2014 at the Western University College of Dental Medicine, is the chair of the CDA Student Delegation. In that role, he has the responsibility of leading the student delegate meetings, being a voice to CDA for the delegates, sitting in as a guest at the CDA Board of Trustees meetings and relaying information from CDA to the delegates so they can share that information with their respective classes.

"I have found that being the chair gives me the opportunity to work with some of the most well-rounded and influential dental students in California,” Banner said. “The delegates I have the opportunity to serve have big hearts for volunteerism, leadership, organized dentistry and their communities. I love being able to represent them at the meetings I attend."

As an active student leader, Banner has helped set up five school-based dental clinics (with three more on the way) that provide full-scope dental services to school-aged children through the Head Start program. He also leads the analysis of the data acquired from these clinics to evaluate their efficiency and capacity to provide care. In addition, he is a student leader in offering services to the special needs and intellectually disabled populations by working hand-in-hand with the San Gabriel Pomona Regional Center.

"I have a big heart for the communities I live and work in as well as for the various underserved populations,” Banner said.

Erin Meidinger, class of 2014 at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, also has a big heart for her community. In 2010, Meidinger attended an America's Dentists Care Foundation Missions of Mercy clinic in Bloomington-Normal, Ill., and experienced the dental community coming together in an “incredible spirit of camaraderie and service.” Meidinger, who is the 2014 CDA representative at the UOP School of Dentistry, hoped that California would have such an event, and “was thrilled” to find that the CDA Foundation was hosting its first CDA Cares free dental clinic in Modesto in May 2012.

She knew she had to get involved by recruiting volunteers.

"We partnered with faculty at UOP and UOP’s Student Community Outreach for Public Education organization to delineate appropriate roles for students at the event and created a plan for getting students oriented to and registered for the event," said Meidinger, who serves as the chair of the UOP student volunteer effort for CDA Cares clinics.

On site at the CDA Cares clinics, she tries to ensure that students are partnered with tasks and experiences they find rewarding and work with faculty and CDA staff to ensure the student volunteer element of the event runs smoothly. Dental students provide patient support at the CDA Cares clinics, including assistance in patient registration, triage, patient escorting and exit interviews.

“I am proud to say that with the tradition of service at Pacific Dental School, recruiting student volunteers was not difficult, and after the event in Sacramento, this event has become very popular,” Meidinger said. “It is my vision that participation in CDA Cares becomes a Pacific Dugoni legacy.”

More than 160 UOP students volunteered at CDA Cares San Jose in May. In total, 232 UOP students have now volunteered at all three CDA Cares clinics, equaling 1,981 hours of service.

Outside of CDA Cares, Meidinger also works to connect as many of her fellow students as possible with opportunities to network with their local dental societies and attend leadership events.  

One of the main leadership events in California is the annual CDA House of Delegates. Dental student representatives participate in the meeting and are active in discussions of the pressing issues facing California dentists. In the area of licensure reform in the late ’90s, for example, the students supported ADA and CDA policy changes calling for elimination of the live-patient clinical licensure exam. Students hosted licensure forums at CDA Presents in Anaheim and San Francisco in 2007, bringing together leaders from the Dental Board of California, CDA and selected dental school deans to discuss the future of licensure.

The advocacy paid off in September 2010 when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation to create the nation’s first dental school-based portfolio examination process.

In total, 30 student CDA representatives attended the 2012 House of Delegates.

Kris Mendoza, ASDA District 11 Trustee and class of 2015 at the UCLA School of Dentistry, was among those who attended the meeting. As a non-CDA student representative, Mendoza is used to dealing with issues at the national level as a trustee to the ASDA, but he said he enjoyed getting a look into organized dentistry in California at the meeting.

"It was interesting to see the issues discussed be more tailored to our state rather than looking at issues on a national level ... It was encouraging to see so much passion and such great leaders … students and practicing dentists alike,” Mendoza said.

The ASDA has an executive committee, board of trustees and its own House of Delegates, which is comprised of two delegates from each ASDA chapter (dental school). The ASDA takes up issues such as the price of dental school, student debt, licensure and loan repayment. It also puts effort into issues such as access to care and water fluoridation.

At UCLA, Mendoza is a member of the Student Professionalism and Ethics Association, the Dental Practice Management Club and the local ASDA chapter. Mendoza said he has worked to build a good relationship between ASDA and CDA “in order to form a more unified front for organized dentistry in the state of California."

Along the way, this work has given Mendoza a unique outlook on how new dentists in California face a different professional environment than other dentists around the country.

“New dentists in California have to deal with a much more saturated market compared to many other locations throughout the country,” Mendoza said. “It is much less likely for a new dentist to start their own practice in California due to the competition.”

Like Mendoza, Jeffrey Youngberg, class of 2014 at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry, has spent much of his time in student leadership building bridges among new dentists.

"I feel that I have been instrumental in making CDA more accessible to students," Youngberg said. "I did not play a major role, but I was part of the planning and discussion surrounding the two Anaheim CDA Presents Committee on the New Dentist student meetings."

Students have worked to create and launch networking/education events for student members at the last two CDA Presents Anaheim meetings, with more scheduled for CDA Presents in San Francisco.  The events offer dental students a unique opportunity to meet, network and learn from new dentists and volunteer leaders on a variety of topics in a unique format. The meetings have attracted more than 200 attendees at each program, larger than any other student event at CDA Presents in the past.

In addition to this, Youngberg served as a local dental society liaison at UCSF in 2011-12.

"This gave me an opportunity to work with the SFDS Board as well as the New Dentist Committee. While on those committees, I was able to share input that I gathered while speaking with students at my school," Youngberg said. "I had a great time in this position because I had the opportunity to learn more about my classmates and share with them the opportunities that are available through SFDS."

Youngberg also is currently helping develop the Community of Guides program at UCSF, which will help connect countless students as well as new dentists to give leadership and informational aid to those who need it.

All of these soon-to-be graduates are close to beginning their careers, and they plan to stay active in organized dentistry to help lead the profession for years to come.

"As new dentists, we cannot stand idle and let others do the work for us. We must pick up the torch and do our part in leading future generations and inspiring others to enact change for the betterment of the dental profession," Mendoza said.

When asked if he plans to continue to stay active in organized dentistry throughout his career, Banner replied with, "I will 100 percent stay involved."

"I know that I can do more good by being part of an organization than I can on my own,” Banner said. “Also, there are several forces today that are trying to change the dental profession, and not all of these changes are good. I want to be a part of preserving and moving forward the profession.”

Meidinger echoed similar sentiments.

"The changes and challenges occurring in the profession are interesting and demanding.  As I try to stay on top of these issues, I also want to have a voice in them," Meidenger said. "I can’t imagine being part of dentistry without being involved in organized dentistry."

Below is a video featuring dental students at the 2012 CDA House of Delegates meeting in Newport Beach.