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Making 'difficult choices' to make a better ADA

Dr. Feinberg pledges a 'real-world' approach to challenges

November 03, 2014

By James Berry

Photo of Dr. Feinberg
Dr. Feinberg: "Now the time has come for action," on membership growth and the Strategic Plan.
To drive home a point about adapting to change, Dr. Maxine Feinberg harkened back to her days as a first-year dental student at the New York University College of Dentistry.

She recalled that students then received two boxes  — one of them a tackle box — in which to carry their kits of instruments, their armamentarium.

"We were given lists to be checked off as we sorted through these many instruments from each department," Dr. Feinberg noted in her Oct. 14 address to the ADA House of Delegates, delivered just after she was installed as the Association's 151st president.

"By graduation, though, it had become clear that many of the items that made up our kits were still untouched and, in fact, useless to any dentist in 1980," she said, holding up assorted instruments (among them, a blow torch) to the amusement of the delegates.

"In every instrument kit, in every dental school in America, I'm sure there are items that have some historic significance, but have lost their relevance in the real world in which we practice," said Dr. Feinberg, of Westfield, New Jersey.

Then, shifting neatly to her underlying message, she noted, "It is much easier to keep piling things on, whether it be dental instruments, curriculum requirements or, in the case of the ADA, programs and services, than it is to do the hard analysis and make the sometimes difficult choices to cut back on or eliminate outdated, little used or redundant items."

Providing value to current and future members demands that the ADA collect and use "quality data" to make tough decisions on needed change, said the ADA's new president.

"We must do targeted research and be sure that we are asking the right people the right questions so that we get real-world answers to real-world problems," said Dr. Feinberg.

"There can be no sacred cows," she added.

The president acknowledged that there are core activities that the ADA must not abandon, but she said limited resources should never be used to support programs that have lost their utility.

"In other words, lose the copper bands and compound," she said, harkening again to her dental school days.

Dr. Feinberg talked about advocating for dental students who seek "real-world, practical value for their tuition investment," about pursuing student loan legislation and about assisting students with their transition to practice.

She talked about the Action for Dental Health movement and events such as Give Kids A Smile and Mission of Mercy, aiding those who suffer from untreated disease.

She talked about dental workforce issues and about collaborating with other health care professionals and the larger health care community to remind everyone that "the human mouth does not detach from the rest of the patient."

Dentists can apply their knowledge and skills to help curb rising health care costs, she said. Example: "Screening for chronic diseases in dental offices could cut U.S. medical costs by more than $100 million every year."

Dr. Feinberg talked about maintaining the integrity of the dental team by not allowing "a minority of voices to lead us away" from the current, successful model of dental hygiene delivery.

She talked about the Membership Growth Plan and the Strategic Plan — Members 2020 — both plans poised for implementation in 2015.

Until recently, she noted, "we have been laying the groundwork" for these initiatives. "Now the time has come for action."

Her hope, said Dr. Feinberg, is for a "new version of the ADA, one which is all-inclusive, where all dentists are welcome, where we listen, we learn, and most of all, a version where we are more effective."

She also talked about the "Power of Three" — defined as the local, state and national levels of dentistry working together to help every member dentist succeed — and a metaphor for something greater than the sum of its parts.

"It is the power of every one of more than 150,000 American dentists who are proud members of a glorious 155-year-old organization that has made dentistry the most respected health care profession in the country," she said.

In closing, Dr. Feinberg returned to an image from her student days.

"In my new role," she said, "I want to help assure you that the ADA will always provide you with an up-to-date tackle box, with the programs and services you need and want to do your best work on behalf of your patients. And I look forward to working with you to lay the groundwork for future generations of dentists, so that they may continue this proud legacy."