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Still going strong at 25

New Dentist Conference draws young dentists to Chicago

In 1987, the ADA established the New Dentist Conference on the idea that dentists starting out in practice could benefit from leadership development and education tailored specifically to their unique needs.

Twenty-five years later, it’s still getting the job done.

Image: Dr. Rob Leland, Ashish Vashi and Dr. Paul Kennedy III
Award winning: Dr. Rob Leland (center), chair of the ADA New Dentist Committee, presents the NDC Outstanding Program Award of Excellence to Dr. Ashish Vashi (left) of California’s San Gabriel Valley Dental Society, and the Golden Apple Award for New Dentist Leadership to Dr. Paul Kennedy III, president of Texas’ Nueces Valley District Dental Society.
More than 325 attended the ADA 25th New Dentist Conference in Chicago June 16-18, a networking and CE event for dentists in practice for less than 10 years. It’s an all-inclusive conference that is planned and put on by the 17 members of the ADA New Dentist Committee. A full day of pre-conference leadership programming encourages information sharing among new dentist volunteers across the country, and helps those who want to get more involved do so.

With an emphasis on networking and social events as well as clinical, practice, and professional issues CE, the event is one way the ADA builds community for new dentists.

“This conference is geared to what new dentists want to learn,” said Dr. Jennifer Fong of Las Vegas, who started attending the New Dentist Conference while still in dental school. “I love Annual Session, too, but this meeting has a more intimate feel and is more focused on our needs.”

“It’s nice to meet people in the same generation as you,” said Dr. Joseph DiBernardo of Smithtown, N.Y. “We’re starting families. We’re starting practices. We have debt. We can talk about those things and say, ‘This is how I dealt with it.’ ”

“I like the smaller environment of the conference and getting to meet people,” said Dr. Katrina K. Foster of Chicago. “This has been a lot of fun.”

“We’re in a smaller setting and it’s a relaxed atmosphere, so you have more opportunities to share information,” said Dr. Rob Leland, chair of the ADA New Dentist Committee, which hosted the conference.

This year’s conference presented a unique opportunity for mentoring. On the occasion of its 25th anniversary, 15 committee alumni were in attendance. Several alums led small group discussion sections during the conference leadership day, on topics ranging from advocacy and PAC involvement to starting a study club.

“It’s amazing how similar the concerns are today,” said Dr. Charlene Berkman from Port Washington, N.Y., who was in the first class for the Commission on the Young Professional, which later transitioned to the ADA New Dentist Committee. She said issues like student debt load and mobility in the licensure process still dominate conversations among new dentists.

Image: Dr. Justine Kelley
Information sharing: Dr. Justine Kelley, chair of the Massachusetts Dental Society Council on Membership, asks for advice on starting a mentoring program during the New Dentist Committee Network Idea Exchange.
Dr. Patsy Fujimoto of Hilo, Hawaii, who chaired the commission, is the current president of the Hawaii Dental Association. She reminisced about planning the first New Dentist Conference in 1987.

“People asked, ‘Who were these newly minted dentists and what could they possibly tell us about the profession?’ ” said Dr. Fujimoto. But new dentists’ commitment to making contributions to their profession “still remains, manifested in your conference and dedication,” she told the crowd in opening remarks.

Events such as the New Dentist Conference were designed to support new dentists as they make decisions that will affect them throughout their professional lives, said Dr. Jim Cantwil of Flushing, Mich., another alumnus of the committee. Dr. Cantwil worries that economic pressures may have a negative impact on new dentists with higher debt loads.

“Will they be more likely to look at managed care contracts without understanding the long-term repercussions?” said Dr. Cantwil.  Both short- and long-term practice goals are important to keep in mind, he says. In his tenure on the New Dentist Committee (1992-96), Dr. Cantwil spent time getting new dentists and graduate students involved “with the goal of making them know they had a voice” in organized dentistry, and that’s still a priority for the ADA.

The number varies from year to year, but this year’s conference drew 18 members and officers of the ADA Board of Trustees to get to know the young professionals in their own districts, hear about state and local new dentist committee activities across the country, and find out what issues are “top of mind” for new dentists.  During the annual “Hot Topic” question-and-answer session with ADA leaders, issues such as midlevel providers, mobility in the licensure process, the importance of peer-reviewed evidence in clinical care, new dental schools and corporate dentistry were brought up.

“The topics discussed were issues that new dentists care about, and people came in with questions prepared,” said Dr. Leland. “It also gave the ADA a chance to show how it works every day for new dentists. For example, if you work for a corporate practice and many of your needs are taken care of by your employer, how does the ADA stay relevant to you?”

Keeping new dentists involved in organized dentistry was emphasized during the conference’s New Dentist Committee Network Idea Exchange where success stories were shared. State and local new dentist committee representatives talked about how they’ve built networks for new dentists to seek employment opportunities, social events, continuing education, mentoring programs and more.

Image: Dr. Chris Salierno
Speaking out: Dr. Chris Salierno, a member of the ADA New Dentist Committee, leads a workshop on Public Speaking—Conquer Your Fears, Master Your Words during the conference.
The 25th New Dentist Conference also marked the second year with a full day of leadership programming, which had a strong turnout, said Dr. Leland, indicating the appetite new dentists have for topics like the use of social media marketing, public speaking, how to get involved and stay involved, and effective communication for all generations.

“People loved the leadership day, and there were people who had never been part of tripartite dental society activities before,” said Dr. Leland. “The best feedback I heard was from a participant who said he walked away with a bagful of ideas.”

Some came to the conference with interests in mind. Dr. Katrina Foster, a public health dentist who graduated from Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry six years ago, attended a session on public speaking.

“This is valuable to me not only for the public speaking portion but also because it will help me develop thoughts and effective communication skills that will be useful in research proposals,” she said.

“I wanted to tell the Board of Trustees that I’m interested in evidence-based dentistry,” said Dr. DiBernardo, a member of the board of directors for New York’s Suffolk County Dental Society. He completed his endodontic training at New York University College of Dentistry in 2007, where he learned to find evidence to make a positional statement and defend it, as well as rate the strengths of various clinical studies. “When you’re in dental school, you’re so busy digesting information that you really can’t recognize when it’s low quality,” said Dr. DiBernardo, who added that online discussion boards are not enough. He is planning to attend the ADA Evidence-Based Dentistry Champions Conference later this month.

Dr. Fong, a Veterans Affairs dentist, said she’s interested in learning more about how to get dentists from the federal services involved in ADA activities. “One thing I rely on the ADA for is information about infection control,” said Dr. Fong. “That’s a big issue right now, and we’re under more scrutiny with disease outbreaks in some centers. It’s reassuring to have ADA guidelines on this topic.”

Next year’s conference, the ADA 26th New Dentist Conference: A Monumental Experience, will be held June 22-24, 2012, in Washington, D.C.  Member new dentists and dental students interested in attending are encouraged find the conference community on Facebook by searching for “ADA New Dentist Conference” and requesting to join.

Image: Dr. Lacey Greenwald, Dr. Katrina Foster and Dr. Emily Ishkanian
Bright future: From left, Dr. Lacey Greenwald, Keokuk, Iowa; Dr. Katrina Foster, Chicago; and Dr. Emily Ishkanian, Henderson, Nev., listen to a speaker during the conference welcome session.