Meeting Our Challenges Head On

Meeting Our Challenges Head On

Michael Zakula, D.D.S.*:

Just as the changing of the colors of the leaves marks the change of seasons, the House of Delegates in Duluth September 16 and 17 marked the change in leadership of the  Minnesota Dental Association. Issues that have emerged over the past three years are mandating new directions for dentistry. As the Association’s new president, it will be my responsibility to listen to the needs of all members and guide leadership and staff to be attentive and responsive to those directives. 

Emerging challenges from within our organization, coupled with external forces, threaten to significantly affect the way in which we deliver care, advocate for our patients, and shape the future of our profession. As our profession continues its attempts at adapting to an everchanging  economy and toxic political environment, two pressing needs for our association have surfaced:

1. An active and informed membership that offers constructive feedback to the people they have chosen to represent their interests, and 

2. A leadership team responsive to its members who demonstrate a willingness to implement forwardlooking ideas and strategies. 

My focus for the coming year will center on addressing these mandates. 

Prescription for Change

We face trials from within our profession while external forces exert equal pull. These emerging dynamics are threatening to signifi cantly alter the  way in which we deliver care and the quality of care that we deliver. The tasks at hand and ways in which they need to be addressed include: 

• Financial considerations. The demographics of our aging membership will create a financial strain on our national and state associations. It is therefore critical that MDA staff, members, and leadership step up efforts to increase membership in the ADA and MDA. Failure to secure and maintain a large percentage of dentists as members will prevent our profession from being able to “speak as one” and could lead the dental profession down the same road that our medical colleagues traveled years ago. 

• Barriers. At the Capitol, we face shortsighted policymakers often poorly schooled in the key factors affecting delivery of dental care. Couple this with tough budgetary times, and dentistry finds itself in an environment that challenges its ability to reduce barriers to high quality care. The MDA must become proactive, nimble, and resourceful in creating mechanisms directed at tearing down these barriers. The process must include stepped up legislative efforts, educating the public using new mediums, and increasing the effectiveness of our preventive care efforts. MDA staff and leadership must learn to do “more with less” and can no longer limit their focus to a single issue at a time.

• Legislative activity. Development of a strong grassroots network has been a missing link in our efforts to achieve effective legislative initiatives that grow access to care. Last fall your MDA Legislative Affairs Committee took a hard look at our association’s legislative processes and updated their methodology. The changes paid off handsomely, as evidenced by the unanimous passage of our Fair Contracting Bill. However, we cannot rest on our laurels and must continue to work diligently to develop a statewide grassroots network that will communicate our dental concerns and needs to our legislators. The legislative arena will continue to bring forth threats to our profession that must be dealt with in a succinct and effective fashion. Our membership’s level of participation in a legislative grassroots network will be critical in determining the level of success we will achieve in meeting our legislative directives. 

Looking Ahead of the Curve

Diverse and broad, our challenges support the need for an engaged MDA membership. We must position ourselves to shape changing events and directions in dentistry, not wait to shape our practices to the changes. This will require the MDA staff and  leadership to prioritize and to make savvy decisions that look ahead of the curve in order to head off new obstacles and focus on the needs of our members and the public. 

Upon beginning my journey through the MDA chairs three years ago, I was asked what my agenda was. My response remains unchanged: “To strive to make our association the best it can be while remembering that it is a member driven organization where truthfulness,  transparency, and accountability must always flourish.”  As my presidential term begins, be assured that I will hear your concerns and work hard to ensure that they are addressed. I look forward to working with you in this new call to action aimed at benefiting our profession and the people we were trained to serve 

*Dr. Zakula is the 2011-2012 president of the Minnesota Dental Association. He is an orthodontist in private practice in Hibbing, Minnesota. Email is