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Dental students attend economic discussion

April 01, 2013

By Kelly Soderlund, ADA News staff

Symposium panel: Panelists at the event, held at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, discuss how the economy is affecting the profession. The experts included, from left seated, Dr. Karl Self, Dr. Albert Guay, Dr. Howard Bailit, Dr. L. Jackson Brown and Kent Nash. Dr. Todd Marshall, standing, a Park Dental representative, moderated.
Minneapolis—Fresh from the dental clinic, students at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry sat in the audience in their navy blue scrubs.

Around 135 students took time out of their busy schedules and packed course loads Feb. 28 to attend a symposium sponsored by Park Dental titled “The Economic and Workforce Trends Facing Dentistry Today.” Four renowned dental economists and a university faculty member spoke on what the dental economy looks like today and what dental students can look forward to as they continue their careers.

“It was amazing,” said Dr. Leon Assael, dental school dean. “The speakers did a great job at looking at workforce needs and disease trends and utilization trends and looking at the way dentists are practicing now and how they will be in the future.”

The panelists included Dr. Howard Bailit, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut Health Center; Dr. Karl Self, director of the division of dental therapy at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry; Dr. Albert Guay, chief policy advisor at the American Dental Association; Kent Nash, Ph.D., president of Nash and Associates, an economic consulting firm; and Dr. L. Jackson Brown, Ph.D., former editor of the Journal of Dental Education.

“It was really interesting to get an economist's perspective on a general scale on what's going on with dentistry and the country,” said Erik Davis, a fourth-year dental student.

Leaders with Park Dental, a large group practice in Minnesota that's owned and governed solely by licensed dentists, proposed the symposium after reading an article in the August 2012 edition of the Journal of Dental Education, which devoted coverage to dental economics, workforce and education, said Dr. Todd Marshall, board member at Park Dental and a member of the ADA Council on Dental Practice.

“Members of our group had read the special issue and thought there were some significant points in it. We wanted to see what Park could do to bring this knowledge to a broader audience,” Dr. Marshall said. “I think it's well-founded that students in general are not exposed to this kind of information too much within the dental school curriculum that they have, which is more clinical and developmental in focus.”

In addition to dental students and faculty, there were a number of dentists, members and leaders within the Minnesota Dental Association and current and former members of the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. The MDA has worked hard to forge a close relationship with the Minnesota School of Dentistry and Park Dental.

In 2011 and 2012, the MDA received an ADA Membership Program for Growth grant and used it to successfully grow its membership among dentists in group practice in Minnesota. In the last year, the MDA increased its market share among the three largest group practices in the state—Park Dental, Metro Dentalcare and HealthPartners—by more than 12 percent, from 60.5 percent to 72.9 percent, said Dawn Jensen, director of membership for the Minnesota Dental Association.

Ms. Jensen said leaders at Park Dental played a big role in the growth by securing MDA membership for 100 percent of their dentists.

“It was a big win for us,” Ms. Jensen said.

“That was an important step for us to make that acknowledgement that we wanted to make sure we were steadfastly behind membership in organized dentistry,” said Dr. John Gulon, president of Park Dental. “We're committed to doing our part to joining our brothers and sisters in the profession to advance the needs of the profession, which will ultimately serve the patients more productively.”

The next goal for the MDA is developing a benefits package for dentists in the large group practices. Ms. Jensen hopes it will reinforce the value of membership in organized dentistry and the position of the MDA as an advocate for employee dentists. MDA leaders will meet with a group of 12 dentists practicing with Park Dental, HealthPartners and Metro Dentalcare to update them on current issues in dentistry and the benefits available to members.

The MDA will also meet with a consultant or facilitator in hopes of creating marketing objectives to track the association's membership growth and retention for the next three years, Ms. Jensen said.

With Bank of America, the state dental association helped plan another symposium March 26 on life after graduation. The goal was to help dental students understand their options on whether they should buy a practice or start one from scratch, Ms. Jensen said.

The state association is also working to schedule evening courses on practice management for students who feel like they don't receive enough business education while they're focusing on their clinical work, Ms. Jensen said. Members of the University of Minnesota's American Student Dental Association chapter serve on MDA committees and have votes that carry the same weight as traditional MDA members, she said.

MDA leadership also meets with students several times a year to discuss any issues they might have in dental school and hear what the students feel the current hot topics are, Ms. Jensen said.