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Leaping forward, learning from one another

ADA, NDA, HDA and SAID hold joint leadership education program

Image:  ADA President William Calnon, HDA President Lilia Larin, SAID President Ruth W. Bol, and NDA President Roy Irons.
Historic collaboration: The ADA participated in a joint leadership education program with the National Dental Association, Society of American Indian Dentists and Hispanic Dental Association July 19 in Boca Raton, Fla. The presidents of the four groups are, from left, ADA President William R. Calnon, HDA President Lilia Larin, SAID President Ruth W. Bol and NDA President Roy Irons.

Boca Raton, Fla.—They walked in colleagues, ready to talk about their challenges as leaders of their respective associations.

They walked out friends.

The presidents of the American Dental Association, National Dental Association, Hispanic Dental Association and Society of American Indian Dentists and members of each of their respective boards met July 19 in a joint leadership education program. The meeting took place at the Boca Raton Resort & Club and preceded the Multi-Cultural Oral Health Summit, a historic occasion and the first time the NDA, HDA and SAID have held a joint convention.

The meeting has been in the works for some time, since the 2010 National Summit on Diversity in Dentistry. The presidents of the four participating associations continued the dialogue brought forth at the summit through regular conference calls, culminating in the joint meeting.

"We discovered that we needed to learn about each other", said Dr. William R. Calnon, ADA president, "which we did. This morning, we started to understand that we can learn with each other; but before the morning was done, I think we took a huge leap forward and we started learning from each other. And that is an absolutely groundbreaking moment when we started realizing and trusting each other enough that we can start learning from each other. And to me that's what collaboration is all about."

Dr. Calnon was joined at the meeting by ADA President-Elect Robert Faiella, Dr. Kathleen O'Loughlin, ADA executive director, and several other members of the ADA Board of Trustees.

The meeting also included members of the ADA Board of Trustees' Diversity Committee and six current or alumni of the ADA's Institute for Diversity in Leadership from among the board members of the other organizations.

The some 50 people at the meeting discussed board governance and shared with one another how each of the association boards operate; brainstormed opportunities for further collaboration with a goal of strengthening the governance of each of the boards and leadership development; and plotted out their next steps.

"This is just the beginning of a complete and more open collaboration which should not only happen at the national level but I think it should also expand at the state and local level," said Dr. Lilia Larin, HDA president. "I think the vision and leadership of this group is going to help in our collaborative effort to improve the health status not only of our individual cultures but also of our communities in general. It will help eliminate the health disparities."

Throughout the morning, the presidents found that their associations had more in common than not.

"Our members have a lot of common issues. This meeting is very important for us," said Dr. Roy Irons, NDA president. "I feel very positive and strong about this meeting."

Dr. Ruth W. Bol, SAID president, was glad to see the meeting occur, especially after what she called a groundbreaking diversity summit.

"It is groundbreaking in the sense that this is the first time all of our big groups have met together but I think the actual groundbreaking happened at the diversity summit," Dr. Bol said. "This is the vision that was set at the summit that is finally being carried out for the first time."

In a joint letter sent to each of their memberships in June, the associations described their success thus far and reaffirmed their commitment to future collaboration. The letter states the organizations are "especially proud" of the associations' 2011 accomplishments, which include:

  • Collaborating to quickly engage national leaders from outside dentistry who were questioning the wisdom of community water fluoridation on the grounds of disparate risk and social equity.
  • Coming together with others in a partnership with the Ad Council for the national oral health message campaign Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives.
  • Their commitment to the joint leadership program for board members from the four associations, which took place with the combined HDA/NDA/SAID annual session.
  • The protocol the organizations created to guide use of the video testimonials from the National Summit on Diversity in Dentistry to elevate the awareness of the history of social and professional inequality that all have worked to overcome. 

Building on that success, Dr. Calnon wants to keep the dialogue between the associations going and the lines of communication open.

"Personally, I feel that we have to have more face-to-face meetings. We've learned to become friends, and we've learned to trust each other. The way our associations work is there's a constant turnover, so I think the new leaders have to be able to meet the people who have gotten us this far and understand who they are and have a way to learn from their passion and they have to be there as part of that," Dr. Calnon said. "We have very common goals. We share very similar concerns about the oral health of the American public. In this day and age where resources are very precious, whether it be financial or human resources, we need to approach common problems and all work together. What we've accomplished here today is testimony to the fact that we truly recognize that we can work well together."