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Winners of Dr. Whiston awards exemplify leadership in dentistry

December 09, 2015

By David Burger

Photo of Gene Wurth, Dr. Evelyn Lucas-Perry and Dr. Kathleen O’Loughlin
Congratulations: ADA Foundation Executive Director Gene Wurth hands out a Dr. David Whiston Leadership Award to Dr. Evelyn Lucas-Perry in October 2015 while Dr. Kathleen O’Loughlin, ADA executive director, looks on.
Although two Dr. David Whiston Leadership Awards had originally been scheduled to be bestowed, the quality of the applicants — and two donations from generous dentists — allowed the ADA Foundation to give out three awards in September.

Drs. Evelyn Lucas-Perry and Heather A. Willis received the Dr. David Whiston Leadership Award, while Dr. Nipa Thakkar received the Henry Schein Cares Dr. David Whiston Leadership Award.

The quality of the three recipients attests to the legacy of Dr. Whiston, according to Dr. Anthony Volpe, former Foundation president and for whom the ADA Foundation Dr. Anthony Volpe Research Center is named.

“Bottom line, Dr. David Whiston is the top of the heap, the best of the best,” said Dr. Volpe. “It’s a credit to the program that it has his name. It brings dignity to the program.”

The Foundation created the awards in 2014 to honor Dr. Whiston, who served as ADA president from 1997-98, trustee from 1992-96 and president of the Foundation board of directors from 2010-14. The Foundation provides $5,000 to two winners each year, designed to cover the costs associated with attending a leadership training program offered by the American Management Association. Two anonymous donors provided funding for a third award in 2015.

The award is meant to recognize dentists who have demonstrated strong leadership skills that can be used to improve the oral health of the public in the years ahead. 

Each of the winning dentists spoke to ADA News about Dr. Whiston, what the award means to them and why leadership is important in modern dentistry.

Dr. Evelyn Lucas-Perry is the director of public policy research at the American Dental Education Association. She is a 2011 graduate of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and School of Public Health, and is attending the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health pursuing a doctorate in public health.

“Dr. Whiston’s achievements and accomplishments embody the contributions I hope to make in the future,” said Dr. Lucas-Perry. “I was excited to be nominated for the award, given it recognizes Dr. Whiston’s dedication to serve the profession and the public. While I have not met Dr. Whiston in person, I have learned a great deal about him from my mentors and colleagues. All praise the positions he held and the initiatives he promoted, but it is his genuine passion to cultivate the leadership capacity of early career dentists that exemplify his continued impact on the future of the profession.”

Leadership, Dr. Lucas-Perry said, is critical to the vitality of the dental profession. “On a daily basis, dentists provide leadership to their patients, practices, communities, and to their colleagues in research, higher education, health care and the profession as a whole,” she said. “Dentists like Dr. Whiston who serve in important leadership roles help shape the national health care agenda and reinforce the importance of oral health to legislators, other health professionals and the public. I am eager to build upon Dr. Whiston’s legacy.”

Winning the award will help Dr. Lucas-Perry further her efforts in her position of the ADEA’s director of public policy research. “Taking an American Management Association course will improve my ability to effectively build consensus amongst stakeholders and ultimately strengthen my capacity to collectively address the complexities facing the dental profession,” she said.

Photo of Heather Willis
Dr. Willis
Dr. Willis is a general dentist in Fairbanks, Alaska. She is a 2005 graduate of the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine and has been an event chair of the Alaska Mission of Mercy.

To Dr. Willis, leadership is crucial in organized dentistry. “It takes strong leaders to represent and guide our profession, especially if we are to remain the oral health authority within our communities, be it at the local, state or national levels,” she said.

Taking the American Management Course will catalyze Dr. Willis’ leadership potential, she said. “I’m looking forward to having the additional formal education in leadership,” Dr. Willis said. “Nowhere in my dental school or as a dentist have I had a specific leadership lecture.  I have had very little education short of the many books I’ve delved into for answers on how to inspire my staff, my peers or my kids.  I look forward to gaining a pearl or two to utilize within organized dentistry, with the intention of having broader positive ramifications within the general public.  After all, isn’t that the intention of organized dentistry?”

Dr. Nipa Thakkar, winner of the Henry Schein Cares Dr. David Whiston Leadership Award, is an associate general dentist in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. She is a 2012 graduate of the Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry.

Leadership training would alter her approach to solving problems, Dr. Thakkar said. “It would change the way I approach community outreach through leadership service in organized dentistry,” she said. “I feel that proper leadership training is critical to facilitating excellence for those that view me as a leader in the roles in which I have the honor of serving.”

Dr. Thakkar looks forward to her training. “I believe that this grant will give me the opportunity to hone my skills and learn how to effectively and positively influence those around me,” she said. “I am excited to choose and pursue an area of study in leadership development with the guidance of my mentors, and feel hopeful to know that I will be able to refine my leadership style to create a community of health care providers that feel comfortable serving their communities in a profession we can all be proud of.”

Dr. Thakkar said she would take advantage of the opportunity “to better represent a newly emerging cohort of effective leaders for this organization to improve the profession of dentistry, both for our dental colleagues and for the communities we care for.”

To learn more about the Foundation and its awards, go to ADAFoundation.org.