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Indiana program develops diverse future leaders

Participants build their knowledge, skills, confidence


Hoosier leaders: The inaugural class of the Indiana AIR (Acceptance, Inclusion, Respect) Leadership program visited the ADA Headquarters Sept. 24 in Chicago to tour the building and meet with Dr. Kathleen O’Loughlin, ADA executive director. They are, (front row) from left, Bola Bolanle (Indiana University School of Dentistry student); Drs. Sarah Herd; Renee Shirer; Susanne Benedict; Sue Germain (AIR program founder); LaQuia Walker; (back row) from left, David Austin; Kathy Pycinska; Caroline Derrow; Kelton Stewart. The AIR program trains a small group of promising leaders from various backgrounds in hopes they will gain the knowledge and skills to take on leadership roles in organized dentistry.
Indianapolis—Noticing a lack of diversity in leadership roles in the Indiana Dental Association and local dental societies in the state, Dr. Suzanne Germain said she felt she had to do something to change it.

As of year-end 2012, of the 2,341 active, licensed IDA members, 22 percent are women; 3 percent are Asian; 2 percent African-American; and another less than 1 percent are Hispanic.

"Our leadership makeup doesn't necessarily reflect that," said Dr. Germain.

In addition, Dr. Germain said she wanted to find a way to get younger generation dentists more involved in leadership roles as members of the baby boomer generation retire.

Along with Jay T. Dziwlik, assistant executive director of the IDA, Dr. Germain launched the Indiana AIR (Acceptance, Inclusion, Respect) Leadership Program in the fall of 2012.

The program's goal: to provide targeted leadership training to a small group of promising leaders from various backgrounds—gender, age, race, sexual orientation and ethnicity—in hopes they will gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to take on leadership roles in organized dentistry and in their communities.

"We sometimes hear that young dentists are not leaders and they don't want to get involved," Mr. Dziwlik said. "At the root of the problem, some simply need to gain basic leadership skills and confidence. This program allows that."

Dr. Germain, who has served in various leadership roles at the Indianapolis District Dental Society and the IDA, modeled the program after the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership, which she participated in with the class of 2011-12. As part of the program, participants take on a leadership project.

AIR participants enrolled in the two-year program are taught how to organize and run meetings, raise funds, speak in public and resolve conflicts. They are exposed to current leaders, including deans of dental schools and decision-makers at the state and national level. Similar to the ADA Institute for Diversity Institute program, participants will use their new skills to conceive, plan and execute their own project in their second year.

The AIR Leadership program has enrolled six dentists for its second class. They will begin training this fall.

The nine dentists from the first AIR class, meanwhile, are now working on their projects. These projects include the creation of a program that provides veterans with basic dental care in Johnson County, Ind., and another project looks at ways to address dental patients with mental health issues.

"Many new dentists coming out of school are women, but few are in leadership roles," said Dr. Caroline Derrow, AIR participant whose project seeks to create a dentists' group for women to identify and address barriers to women in leadership positions.

According to the ADA's 2012-13 Survey of Dental Education-Volume 1 report, 56.3 percent of first-year students at Indiana University School of Dentistry were women, compared to 47.2 percent of first-year students nationwide.

Another participant, Dr. David Austin, is hosting a panel discussion at the IDA's next annual meeting on the changes and trends in the dental profession, including the changing demographics of dentists and the patients they serve.

"Dentistry has changed tremendously in the 29 years that I've been practicing," he said. "Who knows what changes the next 29 years will bring?"

Ten years from now, Mr. Dziwlik and Dr. Germain say, they hope the program would have produced a diverse group of 60-90 competent leaders.

The two noted that, as they expected, the creation of the AIR program was met by some critics wary of the initiative.

"It was natural to wonder if the money, time and energy poured into a small number of future leaders would pay off," Mr. Dziwlik said.

However, after AIR participants gave brief presentations of their ongoing projects at a recent trip to the IDA House of Delegates, some of their critics had a change of heart.

"The class spoke so elegantly," Dr. Germain said. "Some of my biggest naysayers came up to me and said, 'That was amazing.' It's not that our current leaders are making bad decisions. It's about making sure our future leaders become more of a reflection of the organization."

The participants' skills and enthusiasm have been engaging and reassuring to current IDA members, Mr. Dziwlik added.

"The IDA discovered that leadership was there but just needed an incubator to bring it out," he said.

This year's Golden Apple Awards added extra reassurance to AIR organizers and students after the AIR program was selected in the "Outstanding Achievement in the Promotion of Diversity and Inclusion" category. The Golden Apple Awards are presented by the ADA to recognize dental society activities and excellence in leadership. (See story on Golden Apple recipients)

"We were thrilled because we believe in the program," Mr. Dziwlik said of receiving a Golden Apple. "The award was very reaffirming. We haven't hit a complete home run but this is an innovative model to produce future leaders."