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How does ADA appeal to dentists now?

One of the best ways for the ADA to grow and thrive as an organization is to keep current members happy with benefits and services.

That’s why retention is so important to membership-building efforts. Overall, the rate of active licensed dentists renewing their membership in the ADA is high, with the number of full dues-paying nonrenews averaging just 3.3 percent over the last five years.

Temporary circumstances are often the cause of a short membership lapse, and many dentists come back after just a year or two. Those returning after absences of 10 years or more have drawn some interest from the Association. To be gone that long, it’s not just a matter of missing dues payments. So the ADA wants to know: How is the organization different? What is it about membership that appeals to you now?

“I think I just got older, and after years of practice it became important to be part of an organization,” said Dr. Diana Zinberg of Huntington Park, Calif., who re-joined the ADA last year after a long absence.

“I think psychologically, I wanted to be a part of an organization,” she said. “Before, I was busy with my practice and busy with family life. I was not thinking in terms of the importance of belonging. And after years of practice, membership is easier to manage financially.”

Dr. Dave Sullivan of Pittsburgh had reasons practical and philosophical to re-join the ADA. The director of the VA Medical Center’s general practice residency program and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine let his membership lapse as he transitioned from student to active status. With encouragement from his colleagues in academia, he re-joined the ADA in 2010.

“They said it sets a good example for students to be a member than not being a member,” said Dr. Sullivan, adding: “I think the organization has made some great strides in recent years.”

One change he’s seen is in the way the ADA advances the profession through science and research. Taking a proactive stance in response to stories in the media such as the recent American Cancer Society article associating dental radiographs and brain tumors is something he values. When the story hit the news, the ADA mobilized and distributed an Issues Alert to members via email to help them respond to questions from patients.

“There is a lot more access to scientific material and literature than before, and I believe that the ADA is more organized to respond rapidly to stories in the media with scientific information,” said Dr. Sullivan. “I would have been very surprised had that happened at all years ago.”

The tripartite often plays a role, too. In recent years, Dr. Zinberg began to see how the California Dental Association, in particular, advocated for dentists and the public’s oral health by opposing cuts in the rate of Medicaid reimbursement for dentists.

“The CDA really fights for us, and I felt guilty that I was taking advantage of that benefit without paying for it,” she said. “It feels good to be a part of an organization, especially when it’s an organization that is looking out for our interests.”

As Dr. Zinberg weighed the value of tripartite membership, her daughter was preparing to take the first step in her professional career as a dentist: she was starting school at the Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine in Glendale, Ariz.

“I thought that if I became a member, it would be nice to take her to dental meetings and attend courses together,” said Dr. Zinberg. “I encourage her to be a part of the American Student Dental Association, too. As a young professional, I tell her you need the support of your professional colleagues. When you meet other dentists at local meetings, you don’t feel so isolated.”

In his earlier days in organized dentistry, Dr. Sullivan had an interest in regulatory issues and wanted to see the ADA put more teeth in its efforts to support mobility in the licensure process. He was also a dentist whose early career choices were affected by a high level of student debt. As such, he’d like to see the ADA do more to support students and residents with educational debt in the way of consolidation or lower interest rates on loans.

“I had thought or believed at the time the organization had lost touch with its perspective on benefits and services that it offered young dentists,” said Dr. Sullivan. “Things seemed more geared to dentists who owned their private practices and had been practicing for a while. Membership was expensive for young dentists, too. It was equivalent to a loan payment. I think there was a disconnect between the generations.”

Today, he sees more benefits for new practitioners, such as continuing education programs and new dentists who are playing an important role in activities across the tripartite. “Those are changes that go a long way,” said Dr. Sullivan.

What would he tell someone who has not been a member in a long time about today’s ADA?

“I would say the same thing that my fellow colleagues told me: being part of the group and part of the organization and having a voice is better than no voice at all,” he said. “I think that when there are enough of us, we have a strong voice and we can make changes.”

For more information, visit ADA.org/membercenter, call 1-312-440-2500 or email membership@ada.org. If you’re interested in applying for membership now, contact your state dental association or visit ADA.org/join and complete the online membership application.