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Students enjoy taste of organized dentistry

For some, it's a chance to learn about opportunities beyond the patient chair. For others, it's an entry into the inner-workings of the Association's governance or a peek into important policies that help shape the profession.

After finishing his first year at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, Jonathan Craig-Meckler Miller could have done the easy thing and simply rested for what promises to be an exhausting three more years. Instead he opted to become part of the ASDA externship program for a chance to experience what organized dentistry is all about.

"The ADA always seemed like such a large organization that did so much for its members, but I knew that I would have to spend some hands on time to gain a better insight," said Mr. Miller, who spent four weeks working in the ADA Division of Science and plans to stay involved in research throughout his education. "The externship was an amazing experience. I was given the privilege to work in a one-on-one setting with experts in their respective fields."

Each year the ADA and American Student Dental Association team up to offer the ASDA Externship Program. Designed to give students the opportunity to experience the workings of organized dentistry, the program is open to pre-doctoral dental students who are committed to becoming leaders in organized dentistry both before and after graduation. The externs are placed within various ADA departments—including the Washington office—as well as the ASDA office in Chicago. ASDA coordinates the program and handles the administrative functions and each extern receives a stipend, transportation to and from Chicago or Washington, and student housing, all of which is provided by ASDA.

"The insight and feedback from the externs is irreplaceable," said Tera Lavick, manager of the office of student affairs and ADA liaison to the ASDA externship program. "We're not in dental schools day in day out, so getting the student perspective and a greater understanding of what dental school life is like is so valuable. Plus, it's a lot of fun to work with the ASDA students—they are an impressive, intelligent, enthusiastic group. The extern program gives students a first-hand look at the many facets of organized dentistry and how they all work together for the profession. Overall, it's a great experience for everyone involved."

Natalia Sanchez, a second-year dental student at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, already knew she was interested in policy. For her, the externship was an opportunity to "learn a lot and be productive."

She spent her time in Chicago in the ADA Department of State Government Affairs, utilizing her research skills by doing literature reviews on PubMed and learning about access to care for disabled persons.

"When I applied to dental school and submitted my personal essay, one of the things I wrote was that in the future, I could see myself working with and for the ADA," said Ms. Sanchez, a former Congressional Fellow who hopes to specialize in orthodontics. "And here I am as a summer extern getting a taste of the operations of the organization and the many issues facing the dental profession. Spending time in the Department of State Government Affairs has fueled my interest to keep abreast of legislative issues and encourage my peers to be informed and help give a voice to dentistry. I look forward to going back to serve as legislative liaison for my ASDA chapter because I have a better idea of the role of an LL and some possible initiatives I can take on within our chapter. Furthermore, I have been able to learn more about ASDA—its structure, member benefits and ways to become more involved through national leadership positions in the future."

Brent Medema, also a University of Michigan student headed into his second year, applied because he was inspired by the UM alumni experiences he heard about. He was one of two externs who worked in ASDA's office, also located in the ADA Headquarters building in Chicago.

"I found a good balance between working and enjoying the city. It was also very fun to meet other dental students from around the country," said Mr. Medema. "One of the things that I enjoyed the most though was working on some of the publications. I was able to write a few articles and help with creating the pre-dental guide—I really enjoyed giving my input to them as a dental student. It is a unique situation to work for an organization as one of their members. Because they don't have dental students as a captive audience like that all the time they were eager to pick my brain and learn all that they could."

The Association also has other opportunities for dental students, which are available periodically. For instance, the ADA Division of Science sometimes has opportunities for non-funded internships in the ADA Laboratory for those people with specific projects or research requests.

Shelly Kitain and Andreina Ramones, both third-year students at the A.T. Still University Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, spent three weeks in Chicago on their own dime in June as lab interns, where they got to assist with the ADA Professional Product Review and test the light transmittance and fracture toughness and work of various dental materials, such as flowable and posterior composite materials.

Ms. Kitain said she hopes the opportunity will come in handy one day when she is a practicing dentist.

"It's easy to get focused so much on school and forget about what occurs in other aspects of dentistry," she said. "By working at the ADA I was able to appreciate dentistry more and realize the extent of research that is done on the materials and products used."

The ASDA externs also participated in the ADA Management Conference and several of the Association's council meetings and workshops. The students completed the program on July 31 and returned to dental school with a deeper appreciation for the ADA.

As Mr. Miller put it, "I'm still working on figuring out exactly what it is that I will want to do after I graduate, but I feel my experience at the ADA is helping me decide. It has opened my eyes to many new and exciting opportunities."

There are eight extern positions available for 2010, including two in Washington and six in Chicago. For more information about the program or to access an application, visit www.asdanet.org or call 1-312-440-2848. The deadline for Summer 2010 is Nov. 6.