The New Needs Friends

The New Needs Friends

James K. Zenk, D.D.S.*:

The ADA 27th New Dentist Conference, “Climbing to New Heights”, was held this July in Denver, Colorado. More than 300 participants attended in a very special venue, the Four  Seasons Hotel, with a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains. The conference was hosted by the ADA New Dentist Committee, and invitations were open to any dentist who had  graduated from dental school since 2003. There was some grey hair at the conference as members of the Board of Trustees, the ADPAC Board of Directors, members of the ADA  Membership Committee, dental faculty, and other interested dentists were also invited to attend.
 
At the conference, we spent three days developing and honing our leadership skills, participating in continuing education sessions, and networking with all the attendees in a fun and  educational environment. It was great spending time with this next generation of dental professionals, to feel their excitement, experience their enthusiasm, and share a common  passion for our chosen profession. The New Dentists appreciated the opportunity to mingle and learn with their own generation, to share both the similar experiences and those that are different from what the established practitioners had faced when starting their careers. 
 
My favorite part of this extremely well organized and well run conference was helping to facilitate the “Hot Topics in the Round”. Members of the Board of Trustees and the New  Dentist Committee rotated among many tables of New Dentists for an idea exchange on the four selected topics:
1. Leadership and New Dentists: Opportunities and Obstacles
2. Navigating the Business World for New Dentists
3. Engaging New Dentists in Advocacy
4. Breaking Down Barriers to Oral Health: Workforce Changes in Dentistry
 
Every 15 minutes a bell would ring, and we as facilitators would rotate tables and have the opportunity to interact with a different group of New Dentists. Excellent discussion and  ideas were explored on the assigned topics. It was interesting to talk to New Dentists involved in all facets of practicing dentistry. Dentists who worked for large group corporate  models, associate dentists with solo or small group practices, dentists hanging out a shingle and starting their own practices, dentists buying into or buying out existing dental  practices, public health dentists, dental students, dentists in residency programs, and unemployed dentists looking for opportunities made up the mix of New Dentists at our tables. 
 
One common issue was the high level of student debt and how this affects practice decisions. A real-time online exercise over our phones was led by Dr. Chris Salierno, the current  chair of the New Dentist Committee, to get a sense of the level of educational debt held by those in the audience. By the time I got my phone turned on, the New Dentists had  responded to this survey, and the sense among the participants in the exercise was that the average debt of those in the room was between $250,000 and $300,000. This is a  staggering debt when added to all the other expenses of starting a dental career and life with family as a new professional. 
 
Time at the conference was also devoted to idea exchanges geared toward new dentist committees and recruitment and retention of new dentists. New dentist leaders from across  the country shared ideas on what programs have been successful in their states. All attendees were thanked for their level of participation in organized dentistry and their commitment to their profession by being members of the ADA and their state constituent and local component societies. Golden Apple awards were given out to two New Dentists for displaying outstanding leadership and mentoring skills, and two awards of excellence were given to two state new dentist committees for their outstanding work in supporting their  new dentists. To see pictures of the conference and continue with real time communication, the ADA New Dentist Committee created and maintains a blog, “New Dentist Now”. This  blog is inside of ada.org, and features resources for new dentists and dental students, plus professional insights, news, and much more.
 
As a special social activity of the conference we were able to attend a Colorado Rockies vs. Chicago Cubs baseball game in Coors Field. A casual social and networking picnic preceded the game in the “Outfield”, and then we were paraded to excellent seats on the right field line. Our view was to the West, and after an hour in the blinding sun, we were  treated to a beautiful Colorado sunset over the Rocky Mountains. It was an exciting baseball game on a perfect weather evening. A highlight for me was the bottom of the ninth  inning. Former Minnesota Twin Michael Cuddyer came up to bat with men on first and third with one out and the Rockies down 3 to 1. I was yelling and cheering, as I was sure he  would be the hero and win the game with a walk-off homerun. Bummer: First pitch he hit into a double play. Game over; Rockies lost.
 
This New Dentist Conference provided a wonderful opportunity for our new dental leaders and young practitioners from across the country to get more involved with organized dentistry and take home valuable leadership and educational information and experience. 
 
 
 
*Quoted from the film “Ratatouille”
 
**Dr. Zenk is the Trustee to the Tenth District of the American Dental Association, representing Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. He is a general dentist  in Montevideo, Minnesota. Email is zenkj@ada.org