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ADA Diversity Institute: First class unveils leadership projects

Increased participation in international medical missions. An educational program on the relationship between periodontal disease and osteoporosis. An outreach program designed to increase the number of Hispanic dental students. Another to help foreign-trained dentists navigate the licensure process. A coffee enterprise with proceeds earmarked for a Native-American college education fund. An access program for veterans. Legislation that helps retired dentists assist outreach programs. An oral health program for military families.

They're the personal leadership projects selected and carried out by the eight dentists in the first ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership—and they all highlight the extraordinary leadership roles that dentists have in improving the oral health of their communities.

"Our profession's ideals really shine in the dentists' leadership projects," said ADA President Eugene Sekiguchi. "They tackle ambitious goals, and they're already making a difference for their communities and colleagues."

The Institute kicked off its second year Sept. 9-10, bringing the eight members of the inaugural class together with the 12 members of the class of 2004.

The ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership provides a year-long educational experience for dentists who are members of racial, ethnic andgender groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in leadership roles.

Class members were challenged to select projects that provide them with hands-on experience in identifying and taking action on a civic or professional issue of personal importance.

"You'll be amazed at how many doors open for you when you start your project," Dr. Donald Dexter Jr., a graduate of the 2003 Institute, told the incoming class members.

For Dr. Dexter, the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership renewed his confidence and passion for the profession.

"I think in dentistry, as a profession, you get kind of beat up," explains the general dentist from Eugene, Ore. "You work alone, without a lot of contact from your peers. The Institute really invigorated my enthusiasm for the profession."

Dr. Dexter's personal leadership project demonstrates the challenges Institute class members faced and how they formulated a plan of action to achieve their ultimate goal. What began as a video for Native American populations on the risks associated with periodontal disease led him to eventually re-direct his personal focus.

"I went home more often in the last year than I have in the past 20 years," said Dr. Dexter, who hails from the former Klamath Indian Reservation in Southern Oregon.

The government terminated its recognition of the Klamath as a tribe in the 1950s, and they remain a largely impoverished population. But for Dr. Dexter, termination meant self-sufficiency, which he fostered through education.

"The way I looked at it, termination didn't do something to me, it did something for me," he said.

"For my class project, I wanted to do something to direct funds to programs that I would want to support, like helping Native-American students go to college," he added.

The result is Nu Buflo, a nonprofit coffee enterprise that directs proceeds to a Native-American college education program. Nu Buflo has a distributor and marketing strategy in place, and Dr. Dexter expects it to be up and running in early 2005.

Other projects dealt with clinical issues, such as Dr. Gayle Kawahara's educational program for dentists and hygienists on the relationship between osteoporosis and periodontal disease.

"I chose this project to share a unique experience and educate colleagues," said the Los Angeles general dentist. "I felt I overlooked this connection in a diagnosis and didn't want others to do the same."

Dr. Kawahara pitched a seminar to the Los Angeles Dental Society that eventually led to a women dentists' seminar on osteoporosis. She is also writing articles for the LADS and the Japanese-American Dental Society and participated in a health screening in Chinatown. Her advice to the incoming class: "Pick a project that you're passionate about."

ADA leaders extended kudos for the Institute's graduating class members.

"The Institute class members find that other dentists (plus spouses!) stand ready to pitch in to make good things happen," said Dr. Richard Haught, who becomes ADA president Oct. 5. "Dental societies and the Alliance are providing wonderful support. Community by community, dentists are giving the public even more reason to trust our profession."

Deans and professors from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University lead Institute classes and advise the class members on carrying out their projects.

The class of 2004 will return Dec. 6-7 for the second phase of the Institute. Their final projects will be presented in 2005. Some already have ideas in mind.

Dr. Dionne Colbert, an Atlanta general dentist, plans to study progress on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's "Pipeline, Profession and Practice: Community-Based Dental Education" program to determine ways to increase minority recruitment in the nation's dental schools.

Dr. Cedric Takeo Lewis of Honolulu, Hawaii, is considering his options but knows his project will be one that enables him to make a larger impact on his community.

"I'd like to be more than an individual provider for patients," he said. "Dentistry has really taken a black eye lately, and I want to do something that gives dentistry a good name."

Dr. Lewis added that he gained from the Institute a "profound appreciation" for the future with a more diverse cadre of dentists becoming involved in organized dentistry.

"In many respects, you tend to think of yourself on your own little island," he said. "At the Institute, I met dentists who are energized and working well together. I'm hoping we have a chance to make a difference in the ADA and our communities."

Graduating class members are Drs. Dexter and Kawahara, Flauryse Baguidy, Ronald Evans, John Jow, Marija LaSalle, Jeannette Peña-Hall and Jose-Luis Ruiz.

The class of 2004 includes Drs. Colbert and Lewis, Nava Fathi, Gordon Fraser Jr., Shaila Garasia, Wilma Luquis-Aponte, Pat Mason-Dozier, Mary Anne Navitsky, Andres Pinto, Teodoro Regus, Rosie Roldan and Brian Shue.

The ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership is made possible by the ADA Foundation through the generous contributions from Colgate-Palmolive Co., GlaxoSmithKline, Procter & Gamble and Sullivan-Schein.

Information about next year's Institute will be available in January 2005. If you'd like to be added to the mailing list for a brochure, contact Stephanie Starsiak at Ext. 4699 or starsiaks@ada.org.