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Making history: Diverse dental groups reach out to one another

A historic gathering of the National Dental Association, Hispanic Dental Association, Society of American Indian Dentists and the American Dental Association occurred June 11-12: the first National Summit on Diversity in Dentistry.

Dr. Dave Smith: President of the Society of American Indian Dentists.
Dr. Dave Smith: President of the Society of American Indian Dentists.
Organizers are intent on the event marking a new era of collaboration for advancing diversity in the dental profession.

"This was such an enlightening event," said Dr. Victor Rodriguez, president of the Hispanic Dental Association. "It was important for the ADA to understand NDA, HDA and SAID better, but also that those organizations understand the ADA better. My hope is that we continue to meet and bring in other groups interested in joining our discussions and move forward on ways to improve the oral health of our patients."

"I thought it was a great success," said Dr. Walter Owens, president of the National Dental Association. "We were able to establish new lines of communication and a comfort level among leaders of organizations that will allow us to be more effective in solving the problems related to diversity in the dental profession.

Dr. Raymond Gist, ADA president-elect; Dr. Walter Owens, NDA president; and Dr. Francisco Ramos-Gomez
Summit: Association leaders meet at ADA Headquarters last month. From left are Dr. Raymond Gist, ADA president-elect; Dr. Walter Owens, NDA president; and Dr. Francisco Ramos-Gomez, a past HDA president.

"Each organization has a unique understanding of the culture of the populations we advocate for," Dr. Owens added. "That is often based on life experience as well. By sharing those experiences in this forum, it encourages a greater understanding and helps us all to be better policymakers."

"The national summit is groundbreaking—not a finished project—and we can look forward to a future of more collaborative effort," said Dr. Dave Smith, president of the Society of American Indian Dentists. "The testimonials were quite powerful. There's a lot of work to do; and we're off to a good start."

Dental access, diversity issues tied together

A number of commissions and agencies have studied the lack of diversity in the profession and its effect on access to oral health care for minority populations. The issue was brought to the public's attention in the 2000 U.S. surgeon general's report, which called for the recruitment of minorities in education, practice and research to match their representation in the general population.

Ten years later, the pipeline of underrepresented minorities in dental education is inconsistent with the growth of minorities in the general population. According to the American Dental Education Association, only 6 percent of dental students are African American and 6 percent are Hispanic, while each group comprises 12 percent of the U.S. population.

"Although the scars from the past will never completely fade, the challenges currently facing our profession know no racial or ethnic boundaries—the issues that unite us are far greater than those that separate us," said Dr. Ron Tankersley, ADA president. "Both the profession and the oral health of the public will be the beneficiaries of our working together as we go forward. It will require a proactive effort by all of us. But, I’m confident that we can make it happen."

The 2008 and 2009 Houses of Delegates funded the summit, with additional support from Procter & Gamble.

Moving forward on collaboration would not have been possible without looking at the past. Organizers invited presenters who discussed challenges faced by minority dentists, personal struggles with racism and bias, and initiatives that provide support to minorities as they pursue their career goals. Dr. Tankersley said the presentations helped put the purpose of the summit into perspective.

"The personal testimonials given at the beginning of the summit were particularly poignant," he said. "Even though most of the events described occurred when the participants were students and young professionals, recalling them still elicits strong, heartfelt emotions. Their experiences help define who they are today."

Maria Martinez, Evelyn Lucas-Perry and Danielle Stimson
Next generation: Dental students representing the HDA, NDA and SAID attend the summit. From left are Maria Martinez, Evelyn Lucas-Perry and Danielle Stimson.

There was Dr. Claude Williams, NDA life member and the first African-American orthodontist in the southwest region of the United States. A Baylor College of Dentistry faculty member since 1971, early in his career Dr. Williams was denied educational opportunities that prohibited him from becoming an orthodontist, as well as association membership that would have provided malpractice insurance, life insurance and bank loans.

Dr. Roy Irons, the NDA vice president who addressed the group by video from Gulfport, Miss., was prohibited multiple times from joining his local society due to a lack of required signatures that attested to his character. In time, he received the required signatures.

Dr. George Blue Spruce Jr., the first American Indian dentist in the U.S., founder and past president of SAID, who in a video address asked the group to consider whether American Indian self-determination can be considered a success, considering the low number of AI students applying for federal scholarships to pursue careers in dentistry.

Dr. Victor Rodriguez, Hispanic Dental Association president
Governance: Dr. Victor Rodriguez, Hispanic Dental Association president, discusses how HDA programs increase diversity in leadership.

Dr. Nancy Reifel, SAID board member, commissioned officer of the U.S. Public Health Service from 1984-2005 and faculty member at University of California at Los Angeles, talked about how isolation and the destruction of Native American culture have led American Indians to mistrust traditional educational systems—the repercussions of which continue to be felt today.

Before becoming a member of his local society, Dr. Ernie Garcia—past HDA president, past California Dental Association trustee and faculty member at the University of California at San Francisco—was required to go through an interview process to prove he was an ethical dentist. He eventually did, but the experience left him ambivalent about organized dentistry.

Dr. Sarita Arteaga, past HDA president and mentor to students in the HDA and NDA, shared her experience as the only minority student during three years of dental school. Dr. Ray Gist, the ADA president-elect who this fall will become the first African-American ADA president, talked about the impact that mentors had on his education and career in organized dentistry. Dr. James Hupp, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Education and Licensure Committee on Career Guidance and Diversity Activities, talked about growing up in the segregated south and its lasting effect on the opportunities for advancement for many populations.

ADEA report addresses dental faculty diversity

By Karen Fox

Washington—Dental schools and institutions seeking to increase their faculty diversity will soon have a new tool in their arsenal.

The American Dental Education Association is finalizing a report, Growing Our Own: A Manual for Minority Faculty Development and Institutional Leadership for Diversity, which includes strategies to promote diversity in the academic workforce.

The report follows the ADEA/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Minority Dental Faculty Development Program, which sought to reduce disparities by building partnerships between universities and organizations that focus on developing health leadership. Six dental schools received MDFD grants in the program, which concluded in June.

Dr. Nathan Fletcher, a past NDA president, said that past exclusionary membership practices experienced by minority dentists resulted in "the increased incidences of unnecessary dental problems in minority communities due to low numbers of minority dental professionals.

"Recognizing and acknowledging the multitude of historical problems will bring clarity to the mission by the organizations represented at this summit to formulate the policies that will mutually benefit the citizens of this nation and advance the profession," Dr. Fletcher said.

NDA, HDA and SAID have been at the forefront of efforts to recruit underrepresented minorities in the dental workforce, and the ADA has launched a number of leadership programs and diversity initiatives to further this goal. The majority of the summit would focus on concrete ways the organizations can work together in the future.

The ideas generated by the group represent a starting point for further collaboration. Some examples include:

  • pursuing collaborative advocacy efforts with policymakers, especially regarding Medicaid reimbursement and eligibility;
  • exploring cross representation among governance bodies, such as having liaison representatives between organizations;
  • raising awareness of leadership education and service opportunities;
  • building on the Dental Pipeline, Profession and Practice program, and exploring ways to increase financial support for students in need;
  • exploring communications strategies for associations to advance oral health message grounded in research;
  • expanding cultural competency.

Dr. Ron Tankersley, ADA president
Strategy: Dr. Ron Tankersley, ADA president, calls for more collaboration in advocacy.
Harvard Medical School's first dean for diversity and community partnerships delivered the summit's keynote address. Joan Reede, M.D., a trailblazer in the development of leadership initiatives for underrepresented minorities, has created more than 16 programs for minorities and women interested in careers in medicine, academic and scientific research, and other health professions.

Continuity, consistency, collaboration, communication and commitment are the themes uniting all of Harvard's programs, she told the summit participants. Dr. Reede also reminded the group of the importance of mentoring. "You are here because you stood on the shoulders of someone who mentored you," said Dr. Reede. "You should be doing that, too."

At the summit's end the presidents of NDA, HDA, SAID and ADA immediately agreed to quarterly conference calls to further discussions.

Dr. Claude Williams, NDA
Setting the stage: Dr. Claude Williams, NDA, asks who will identify future leaders.
Addressing the roomful of association past presidents, executive directors, officers, trustees and volunteers, Dr. Tankersley issued a call: "This meeting is a beginning; not an ending. We need to build something so that when we’re gone as leaders this is perpetuated."

Added Dr. Gist: "Our association has a duty to represent the values and interests of all American dentists. Help us understand the unique strengths that your organizations bring to the table, and how working together we can stand up for America's oral health more effectively."