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Dr. Gist invites ‘open dialogue’ with ADA members, leaders

New president addresses House, membership

He was standing at a podium in Orlando addressing the House of Delegates—the “supreme governing body” of the Association—but in a larger sense he was speaking directly to the entire ADA membership, 157,000 strong.

“This is an important new day for the American Dental Association,” said Dr. Raymond Gist, moments after his installation Oct. 13 as the ADA’s 147th president. “We have an opportunity to prove that the grand history of this Association is only a beginning—and that achieving the collaborative goals of our full profession will be even more rewarding. The great technological innovations of the next 151 years will be matched equally by our unity in advocacy.”

The new president, a general dentist from Grand Blanc, Mich., and a 1966 graduate of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, vowed to center his presidency on two main goals: accountability and respect.

“I want the world to know that we are the experts, and I look forward to delivering that message with you,” he said, speaking to the profession as well as the delegates. “We have a respected voice and unique strengths that are the envy of other health care fields. Policy makers trust that when the ADA speaks, we speak for organized dentistry.”

Then, targeting his remarks specifically to the House, he added, “Because of your guidance and oversight, we have authority when we advocate. We must take advantage of these strengths as we contemplate strategies to address the issues that we face. We must move forward together, and to do that, we need a clear path and the discipline to maintain it.”

He noted that a process initiated at last year’s House had led eventually to the Board of Trustee’s approval of a new strategic plan designed to serve the Association through 2014.

Dr. Gist hailed the plan as “member-centric and simple.”

He added, “The goals are focused on impact or outcome, not on activity. And the plan is designed to make sure we keep asking questions: Why are we doing an activity? What is the outcome or impact of that activity? And does it support the achievement of our goal?

“The only way to ensure that your dues dollars are spent wisely is to ask these questions before, during and after everything we do.”

Goals in the strategic plan, he noted, are tied directly to budget and also to a yearly operating plan.

“All the goals and objectives are measureable, and each goal has a measure assigned to it,” Dr. Gist explained. “These measures will be monitored each year in order to demonstrate the achievement of the goal.”

Both financial and human resources will be aligned with areas of greatest importance. The plan will affect the way the Association does business “every day over the next four years” and will be “a welcome resource to the Board of Trustees,” keeping the Board accountable to the House and the membership, the president said.

Later in his address, Dr. Gist pointed to a contentiousness that has surfaced within the profession in recent years. To counter that trend, he welcomes “open dialogue” “respectful disagreement” and “healthy debate.”

He added, “Just bear in mind that no one issue and no one controversy is bigger or more important than our profession and our unity.”

The president cited an all-day conference on workforce issues held last July in Chicago as a contentious issue handled with civility.

“The clear take-away for me from that meeting is that ADA members are far more united on these issues than we sometimes appear to be,” he said. “We all believe in maintaining the dentist as the leader of the dental team; we all want to maintain the same level of service to all patients in the country; and we all want to find a solution to the access-to-care problem.”

(Later in the meeting, the House adopted a series of resolutions on workforce issues. See story, Nov. 1 ADA News.)

Dr. Gist confided to the delegates that he is “disappointed” by what he sees as the “slow progress” the profession has made on access to care. In some circles, he noted, access has been reduced to a “dental-procedure gap” spurred by a perceived shortage of dentists said to be particularly acute in the most economically disadvantaged or remote areas of the country.

“We know this to be false,” Dr. Gist said flatly. “Access disparities cannot be fixed simply by performing more procedures. This is a public health crisis caused by too much disease. We must communicate this fact more broadly.”

The ADA’s new president pledged to be accessible to members, to encourage open dialogue, to bring “a little more sunshine” into the process and to encourage “respectful exchanges” to help forge a stronger bond between ADA members and ADA leaders.

Read more in the full text version of Dr. Gist's address to the ADA House.