President's Message: Horizon Lines

President's Message: Horizon Lines

R. Bruce Templeton, D.D.S.*:

As I write this first President’s Message, I have just returned from a trip up north to attend a family funeral. The many miles of highway gave me time to pause and reflect, something I have not had the time to do for a while. My thoughts included remembering those early days of my dental career, now 29 years ago, when I made the decision that I would always be involved with organized dentistry. As I drove north, I marveled once again at the beautiful checkerboard of the bright yellow canola fields, blue flax, golden barley, and the ripening wheat, and thought of how that is so representative of us here in Minnesota.

Here in the Minnesota Dental Association, we have eight rather distinct trustee districts, each with its own special needs and challenges, yet when we all come together at board meetings, we combine so well day in and day out to serve our constituents. The hard work that our trustees and staff do for us holds us all together and enables us to move forward to better serve the interests of Minnesotans in unique and effective ways.

Reflecting on the MDA presidents I have had the privilege of working with, I am reminded of how these leaders were all so very capable and effective and struck by the challenges of the task ahead. Dr. Lee Jess has brought us very capably through what has likely been the most volatile time of our history this past session. He has always carried himself with great determination and integrity that has earned him the highest respect from all his colleagues and friends. As much as I want to hope that the tempest is over, it is not. We will need to keep ever vigilant to ensure that our members are well represented and our population is served with the highest quality care possible. After all that I have seen, I am firmly resolved that the best patient care comes from a system that has the dentist at the head of the oral health team working in a fee-for-service team environment. This is a very complex task, but one from which we cannot shy away if we are to continue to show our commitment to superior oral health and service to all Minnesotans.

Here in Minnesota we are constantly confronted by internal and external forces that challenge our fundamental values as a profession. When I was a general practitioner in northern Canada, I literally saw the DEW line (distant early warning line). This is a term well known to those of us in my generation and older, but perhaps less well known to our younger members. The DEW radar line was built to alert us to threats from the USSR in those days of the Cold War. It seems at times to me that we here in Minnesota are the DEW line for our nation’s dental services. We have some very significant issues that are happening here, and the nation has its eyes turned toward us to see how these efforts will turn out and to see what we are doing and how our dental delivery system, with the dentist at the head, is the best in the world and will continue to be the best in the world.

From my experience practicing in Canada, where the dental care system is not managed by the government-managed health care system, and with our medical colleagues struggling very significantly, we must keep our eyes on that “laboratory to the north” and be sure we do the very best for our members. We must be sure to read and understand what it is we are involved in, and that our Minnesota Dental Association is here to help us to do just that. As individuals, we must be very careful to read and review all contracts before we sign them. Access to care issues, third-party or governmental interferences, elder care, and very significant economic challenges are but a few of our current challenges. It has never been more important for us to deliver a strong and unified voice to stakeholders in the many issues we face. We must always try our very best to be sure we have a culture that gives all of us a sense of belonging to our association despite our very diverse backgrounds. I have had the pleasant task of calling a number of you to ask for your volunteerism on our committees. The overwhelmingly positive response has strengthened my resolve to continue to serve to advocate for Minnesota dentists. Please ask yourself what you can do to make your MDA the best it can be.

A new strategic plan for our association is being worked on by our very competent past-president Jamie Sledd. Look for more on this later this year. This will be the culmination of much work on your behalf by MDA staff and volunteers. This should be a necessary focus for our future actions.

We have so many dentists who volunteer to help here in Minnesota; we really are the envy of many. Dentists volunteer to treat underserved patients, teach at the University of Minnesota to educate our new colleagues, volunteer on many MDA committees, with legislative issues, in foreign countries, in the communities where they live and serve in civic organizations. We are a state of volunteers, and that is what makes the MDA successful, in my opinion. The grassroots mobilization that we have seen has been a primary force in maintaining our lead in the provision of dental care to the citizens of Minnesota.

So much of our future lies in the hands of our new graduates. During most of my years in dentistry the issues were rather tame in comparison to what has been before us these past few years. The practice of dentistry is changing dramatically, and in the years to come our new dentists will likely practice very differently from the way we have. As students, we all seemed to be very good at looking back, in effect, to follow the lead of very experienced practitioners who had many years of valuable experience. With the new facilities and programs at the University of Minnesota, we need to encourage our students to look ahead as well and be part of the quick and permanent changes that are happening now in health care. Evidence-based dentistry and medicine is something we all can take part in developing. It is imperative to be involved and be leaders in delivering oral health care to our citizens. If we are not in the lead, someone will indeed lead us. We must work to have our young colleagues involved in our activities, and support them in activities that lead to their success. The debt load on new graduates has left our new colleagues with very high financial pressures at a time in their professional development when they are least prepared to deal efficiently with such pressures. Our programs and mentoring activities need to keep pace with the needs of our future leaders. Meetings for volunteers need to be convenient, timely, and well run. Time constraints are very much an issue in today’s world, in a way that is very different way from what it used to be. Social networking, electronic communications, and other innovations must be kept up so we can best serve you, our members. Your MDA staff is working hard to keep us up to date in this ever-changing environment.

I am at the same time humbled and anxious to serve as your president this next year. I must tell you, though, that the tremendous staff and volunteers by whom I am surrounded here at the MDA make the job ahead much easier than I ever imagined it might be. Our Minnesota Dental Association is committed to give you exceptional value while we come together to define goals and allocate our resources where they are needed most in these challenging times for Minnesota dentists. Let’s look ahead at what is on the horizon and be part of the exciting times ahead.

*Dr. Templeton is the 2009-2010 president of the Minnesota Dental Association. He is an oral surgeon at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Email is robert.templeton@med.va.gov.