President's Message: Opportunity of Change

President's Message: Opportunity of Change

Michael Zakula, D.D.S.*:
Every leadership position is best served by determination of what the major focus of the leader’s tenure will be. As I progressed through the MDA officer ladder, it was obvious to me that dentistry was being presented with transitional and potentially controversial initiatives on both state and national levels. Ten days into my term as president of the Minnesota Dental Association, it became clear that change and transition would in and of themselves be the focus of my tenure. 
 
The departure of our long-term Executive Director in late September set the wheels in motion for changes within our own organization. With the Executive Director’s departure  and the resulting comprehensive review of past practices and current membership needs, a myriad of challenges and opportunities have been thrust upon the officers and the  Board of Trustees. The leaders that the MDA membership put in place have been meeting these challenges with great commitment and a considerable outlay of time. The goal has  been to continue the day-to-day operations of the Association and to keep up with the activities and initiatives that were already underway. Your leadership has more than  satisfied these aspirations. 
 
Two years ago, the Board had pledged to perform a comprehensive evaluation of the previous year’s legislative activities and make whatever changes necessary to ensure that  the MDA would be an effective legislative advocate for its members. Based on evaluation of our 2011 legislative efforts, it was clear that a redirection of our legislative strategies  as in order. New challenges in the area of access to care presented by state lawmakers and evolving dental insurance and dental practice models required a concentrated and  fresh approach. With the evolution of these changing winds in dentistry and our need for greater success, the staff position charged with the responsibility for leading the charge  was redefined to meet these new demands. This necessitated personnel changes resulting in the hiring of Ms. Laura Kramer for the newly defined Director of Government Affairs  position in early January. Ms. Kramer is dynamic and informed and will have an extremely positive impact on the development and advancement of MDA legislative policy positions  and strategies. 
 
In this time of transition, the officers and Board of Trustees have focused on the following issues: 
• Finalizing a comprehensive legislative affairs plan
• Developing and implementing the hiring process for a Director of Government Affairs
• Resolving language issues in last year’s negotiated Delta Dental agreement
• Exploring scenarios for the future of MDB
• Developing and implementing a Membership Program for Growth (MPG)
• Reviewing/developing conferences directed at member oriented concerns 
• Initiating and implementing the hiring process for an Interim Executive Director 
• Initiating and implementing the hiring process for a permanent Executive Director 
• Reviewing/selecting a more cost-effective health care option for MDA staff 
• Developing an Office Policy Manual for MDA Employees 
• Developing evaluation procedures for MDA staff and consultants 
• Addressing building and landscape issues 
• Discontinuing ownership of an MDA vehicle 
• Maintaining open lines of communication with the leadership of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry 
• Establishing better communication with the ASDA Chapter of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry
• Continuing to monitor activities of/provide input to the Minnesota Board of Dentistry 
 
In the midst of all this change, the Search Committee for the new Executive Director has narrowed the field to three candidates and has scheduled face-to-face interviews with  them early in February. The quality of the applicant pool was extremely impressive, and the Search Committee has worked diligently to recommend the very best  candidate to the  Board of Trustees for consideration as our new Executive Director. 
 
With all of this change occurring, some of our members have questioned, “What is going on at the MDA?” As with any change, even if for the better, it is always accompanied by  discomfort. The transition from one Executive Director to the next has brought a unique and tremendous opportunity to reevaluate and appropriately restructure our association  making certain that we are being prudent, efficient, and fiscally responsible in the process of taking our association to the next level. Please be assured that your leadership has  maintained its focus on moving forward in a transparent and accountable fashion with an ever-present underlying concern for doing what is best for all of the membership.
 
The big positive and constant during this transition has been the hard work and dedication of the Minnesota Dental Association staff. They have responded positively in meeting  the increased demands placed on them with the advent of the change in leadership. The MDA staff centered on making certain that members continue to receive the services and  benefits to which they are entitled. MDA Director of Membership and Internal Operations, Ms. Dawn Jensen, stepped up to the plate big time and served exceptionally as our  “Transitional Executive Director” until the Board of Trustees hired Ms. Linda Tacke, Interim Director, early in December. Ms. Tacke has done a tremendous job of evaluating the  MDA staff, our organizational structure, and the methodology we have used in the past to meet the needs of our association. She has been an invaluable asset to the officers  and Board of Trustees in effectively managing and coordinating the efforts of our “MDA team”. 
 
Finally, the philanthropic actions of our association and its members continue during this transition period, as evidenced by the tenth year of our statewide Give Kids a Smile, held  February 3 and 4. Preparations continue for our very first Minnesota Mission of Mercy. Under the direction, guidance, and passion of Dr. Alejandro Aguirre, the MnMOM Committee  has done a tremendous job raising money and organizing this ambitious project. The goal is to provide one million dollars of free dental care to 2,000 patients at the Verizon  Wireless Center in Mankato August 17 and 18. Registration for onsite volunteers will open in February. Although both events are very worthy, I feel that the true “dental heroes  and heroines” are those dentists within our state who provide free or discounted care on a daily basis to thousands of Minnesotans who live within their practice area. These  everyday champions don’t get their picture in the paper or the journal, but do provide dental homes to those who would not be able to secure care. The professionalism, kindness,  and generosity of numerous dentists who truly care goes for the most part unnoticed, but they should be an inspiration to all of us to do our fair share for the less fortunate. 
 
It is a pleasure and honor being president of such a progressive professional association where change has become constant and inevitable. The Board and I are passionate about  doing what is right and best for its members. You are our primary concern. 
 
 
*Dr. Zakula is the 2011-2012 president of the Minnesota Dental Association. He is an orthodontist in private practice in Hibbing, Minnesota. Email is drmichaelzakula@gmail.com