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A Message to all New Dentists (From a Fellow New Dentist)

Posted Jul 13 2009 11:17pm
Organized dentistry helps you succeed!

At the ADA New Dentist Conference in Miami, I met Josh Lord who works for the Michigan Dental Association. He told me about an essay he wrote about how organized dentistry helped a recent graduate. He forwarded me the essay, and I am posting this with his permission.

What began as the notion of a “professional obligation” (becoming a member of a dental association) has transformed Kevin Cook, D.D.S into one of Michigan’s premier future leaders of organized dentistry – and he just graduated from dental school roughly two months ago.

“My perception of what it means to belong to organized dentistry has changed from ‘this is something you just do (pay your dues, hang up your membership decal in the office and brag to your patients about being a member),’ to a strong appreciation for the size, scope and services provided by organized dentistry,” Cook said during a recent interview. “There’s just so much more than paying your dues and saying you’re a member.”

Cook’s experience with organized dentistry is akin to any endeavor one chooses to partake in; namely, the results are the fruit of your labor.

“There’s no doubt your experience with organized dentistry will be a result of the effort you put in,” Cook added. “I’m not saying everyone has to jump in like I did, but there’s really something for everyone to get passionate about within the organized dental community – you just have to look.”

And with economic times being as difficult, and ongoing, as they have been recently, there’s no doubt every dues-paying dentist nationwide is looking hard at what returns are being provided for an investment into membership. And, without getting involved at some level, Cook agrees it is difficult to understand where the money is actually going.

“Getting involved has given me an appreciation for the ways my dues dollars are being utilized,” Cook emphasized. “Many members that I’ve talked to aren’t taking advantage of half of what is offered and they’re missing the boat. Separate from all of the discounts, CE opportunities, insurance programs, advocacy services, etc. there’s something to be said for the network you can build.”

That reliable group of like-minded individuals is critical, Cook believes, at every stage of practice because, let’s face it, life as a solo practitioner can be, well, lonely.

“With organized dentistry, you can network and surround yourself with fellow professionals that have your same interests and aspirations in mind,” Cook added. “Meeting so many great people tends to rub off of on you and after awhile you’ve built a support group that constantly pushes you to perform at higher levels.”

Throughout Cook’s short, yet thorough, history of being involved in organized dentistry, he’s been able to mingle with and become mentored by some of dentistry’s most well-respected leaders at the state and national level.

Going back to his days in high school, Cook surrounded himself with the best and brightest that Michigan’s dental community had to offer. During his career internship program, he worked in the office of Dr. Ron Paler, past MDA president (he also worked in a dental lab and at a local ortho office).

As an undergrad, Cook took it upon himself to write the charter to get the University of Michigan recognized as an official American Student Dental Association (ASDA) chapter, where he relied heavily on his ever-expanding group of professional mentors to help him along the way.

After embarking on his official journey through dental school at the University of Michigan, Cook joined the Michigan Dental Association’s (MDA’s) Committee on Continuing Education as a student consultant (he often cities his passion for CE because, “Obtaining one’s dental license gives them a permit for lifelong learning.”).

“I had no idea what opportunities would be available to me through my participation in organized dentistry,” Cook said. “By getting involved with the MDA’s CE committee, I was able to network with dentists that I’ve looked up to for years. Meeting and gaining the insights of doctors like Gordon Christensen, Carl Misch and Ray Gist are without a doubt some of the most incredible opportunities I’ve ever had. To be able to tell people that my experience in organized dentistry has provided me with these opportunities can be summarized in one word: wow.

I’ve been able to stay in touch with many mentors throughout my journey and now I’m running into them at events, CE courses, etc. And, I believe we have a profound mutual respect for each other because of the journey we have traveled.”

Now that Cook has completed dental school and is in the process of entering into the University of Michigan’s AEGD program, he’s going to have to scale back his involvement — temporarily. However, he’s taking comfort in knowing the powerful resource of organized dentistry is supporting him every step of the way.

“I’ll still be looking to the MDA and ADA for help with finding a job once I’ve completed my AEGD, to access resources to help me navigate my first employment agreement, so I can stay involved with committees so my voice can have an impact in the profession, and I can stay in the loop with everything that’s going on in the dental community,” Cook stressed. “There’s no doubt that I plan on staying as involved as I can – because in the end, organized dentistry makes me a better dentist.”

As fortunate as Cook has been to grow substantially, and successfully, through his years of involvement in organized dentistry, even though he’s only 26, he understands that getting involved can be a challenge because the perception is that organized dentistry is a massive intangible entity.

“I feel that sometimes the hardest thing for undergrads and dental students and young dentists to grasp is despite the fact that tripartite membership structure is huge, the networks on the local, state and national level exist to help you succeed at every stage of practice,” Cook stated. “The associations understand that every dentist has different interests and needs, and all it takes is for a dentist to spend a few minutes to see what is out there for them.”

In the end, Cook believes without making the effort to understand how organized dentistry can help practitioners succeed, members simply won’t appreciate the investment they’re making in the future of their profession.

“There’s an old saying that there’s power in numbers – and organized dentistry is a clear example of the success afforded by dentists joining together in large numbers,” reflected Cook. “Having an understanding and appreciation for the advocacy services we’re able to employ and everything else that organized dentistry offers gives you a different perspective on what it means to invest in membership.”

Looking forward, Cook wants aspiring dental students and new dentists to understand that to safeguard the profession the time to invest in membership in organized dentistry is now.

“For the future of our profession,” Cook stressed, “it is absolutely imperative that young dentists get involved, stay involved and help lead a united dental community to face the challenges of the 21st Century. Without joining together, we’re bound to end up risking everything we’ve gained during the past 150-plus years.”

Josh Lord is the Director of Membership and Student Affairs for the Michigan Dental Association located in Lansing, MI. He specializes in membership recruitment and retention, public relations, student affairs, event planning and social networking initiatives.
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