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'I'm still a work in progress!'

Dr. Leslie Seldin to receive 2008 Distinguished Service Award

His eight-page curriculum vitae chronicles a lifetime of service: a general dentist now retired from private practice after nearly 40 years, an educator, author, editor, spokesman and leader.

Not captured in these words on paper are the qualities that have made him a mainstay of organized dentistry for so many years, one of those go-to guys that every successful organization needs, the sort who can always be counted on to get the job done—on time, on budget and with great style.

And now Dr. Leslie W. Seldin has another entry for his impressive resume. The 67-year-old native New Yorker and past vice president of the ADA is the 2008 recipient of the Association's Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Board of Trustees.

Nominated by ADA President Mark J. Feldman and approved by the full Board, Dr. Seldin will receive the DSA Oct. 17 before the House of Delegates at its meeting in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Ball-room C.

He learned of the award through a phone call from Dr. Feldman; written confirmation came later.

"It was really a shock," said Dr. Seldin of the award. "It was absolutely unexpected, and it's a great honor."

This year's DSA recipient decided early in life to study dentistry, following a trail blazed by his father, the late Dr. Jules B. Seldin, described by his son as "a very committed, very enthusiastic dentist who loved the profession."

After receiving a bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1962, Dr. Seldin went on to earn his dental degree from the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery in 1966. Then came two years in the U.S. Army Dental Corps, where he served with the rank of captain.

"After the Army, I went into practice with my father," Dr. Seldin recalled. "He was very active in organized dentistry, a past president of the First District Dental Society in New York and active at the constituent level. When I came into practice with him, the first thing he said was, 'Now we have to get you on a committee.'"

As noted in a Board-adopted resolution naming him the DSA recipient, Dr. Seldin has been on his share of committees over the years.

At the ADA, he's currently vice chair of the Association's National Campaign for Dental Education: Our Legacy-Our Future and was on the task force that organized the campaign.

He's a past chair of the ADA Council on Insurance, served as a delegate to the ADA House for 17 years, chaired or served on three House reference committees and was the Association's first vice president in 1992-93.

He's been an ADA media spokesman, appearing on such programs as NBC's "Today Show" and the "CBS Nightly News." He's a past associate editor of The Journal of the American Dental Association. And in 1999, he was named chair of an Oversight Committee charged to develop a report on the Future of Dentistry, a three-year project delivered on time and on budget.

"The Future of Dentistry report was probably the most exciting thing I've done in dentistry," said Dr. Seldin, without a hint of irony.

At the local and state levels, he was president of both the First District Dental Society and the New York State Dental Association. Academically, he is an associate clinical professor at the Columbia College of Dental Medicine, where he also chairs the Dean's Advisory Council.

These limited highlights from his resume barely scratch the surface of a highly productive career.

"I am a happily retired dentist," said Dr. Seldin, who continues to teach, serve on various boards, provide expert testimony in court cases and generally keep busier than the average "working" person.

His wife of 15 years, Dr. Connie Winslow, an orthodontist also on the faculty at Columbia, also has been active in organized dentistry. Dr. Seldin has two grown sons from his first marriage; his first wife, Lynn, died unexpectedly in 1992, at the age of 46.

On the issues of the day, Dr. Seldin cited access to care for the underserved as the profession's "major challenge." He added, "I think the American Dental Association and the profession have to be very aggressive in trying to solve that problem and solve it quickly."

Advances in dentistry, he noted, have led to continuous improvement in the quality of care delivered and made dentistry "an enormously popular profession" for young people.

And what advice does he have for new dentists just starting out?

"When you join the health care professions, when you join the dental profession, you're not just going into business for yourself," he said. "You're going to provide well for yourself and your family, and you're going to be able to help people. But to be truly fulfilled in your profession, you have to do more than spend all of your time in your office.

"I've been able to participate more broadly in the profession in part because of organized dentistry, which expands your horizons," added Dr. Seldin. "You give yourself more by reaching out and giving something back to the profession, which has provided so many opportunities and been the pathway to your success. Dentistry is far more than purely a way to make a living."

Assessing his own experiences as a dentist and dental leader, he observed, "It has been a great ride—and it isn't over. I'm still a work in progress!"