Northwest Dentistry recently sat down with Dr. Michael Flynn* to talk about his year so far as president of the Minnesota Dental Association. We discussed the MDA’s evolution in response to both the internal and external needs of its members and the public it serves.
NWD: As is our tradition, let’s begin with some personal background.
Dr. Flynn: I grew up on a dairy farm down by Sartell, Minnesota, the fourth of five children. There are no dentists in my family — I am the pioneer. I went to St. Mary’s University, originally to be a chemist, which I was. I did not know I was going to be a dentist until age 22. I had a close friend whose father was a dentist, and they encouraged me to consider the profession. By the time I graduated from dental school, I knew I was going to set up in private practice, so I traveled the Midwest. I considered Colorado, but ended up renting a new space in Winona, where I started my office from scratch. [laughs] Well, that started out slower than I had wanted — I answered the phone and did a lot of crossword puzzles — but I have now been in practice for 34 years.
NWD: How did you begin in organized dentistry? What has it come to mean to you over the years?
Dr. Flynn: I have always been involved in organized dentistry, even as a student. For me it was just automatic, for both the MDA and the ADA. There was a local Winona dental society, the MDA’s Southeastern District Dental Society, various committees, and then, believe it or not, Governor Ventura appointed me to a health care task force, which I was very impressed by. So I have to give him a little credit for pushing me to a higher level of service.
NWD: Dentistry is a challenging field to begin with, but the change now is constant, rapid, and even tumultuous. What grounds you so you can deal with all this?
Dr. Flynn: Any industry today is changing around us, and it is an unbelievable challenge to keep up. That said, it can also pique your interest and keep you invigorated to work hard to be a part of that industry. For me, it’s something that comes with trying to be the best in your industry.
NWD: You are using “industry” rather than “profession” here. What is the differentiation? Is this how you see your practice?
Dr. Flynn: I do. Even when referring to it in the legislature, I call it “the dental industry”. The MDA places us professionally with our fellow dentists and our clinical staff, but we also function within the vital product part of our industry, from materials and those changes to electronic recordkeeping and any number of other issues. With all the changes to come, the dental profession needs to work with that entire dental industry to meet the needs of our offices and our patients. Understanding this “big picture” is very grounding.
NWD: What are your best skills, traits; what do you bring to a project?
Dr. Flynn: One is a can-do attitude. Then come the creative opportunities that my business background allows me to have. Knowing that there is a “big picture” here at the local, state, regional, and national levels as we work for and with the people of Minnesota, you have to be both very broad and consistently inclusive in your ideas in order to work with health care coalitions, provider groups, insurance entities et al. When trying to blend all the facets of our industry into one that is very productive, you have to be a multi-tasker, and that is fairly natural to me.
NWD: When do you do your best thinking?
Dr. Flynn: It’s when I drive that two-and-a-half hours between Minneapolis and Winona. I’m usually by myself, and can put together the issues and the opportunities then.
NWD: How did all this bring you to the officers’ ladder and the MDA presidency?
Dr. Flynn: Eight years or so ago I took over the Southeastern District trustee position when Dr. Candace Mensing was appointed to the State Board of Dentistry. I was subsequently reappointed, but with a year left, I resigned to run for MDA second president. So here I am three years later, now MDA president, still working on the many projects of the last eight years.
NWD: How do you lead an association composed of leaders?
Dr. Flynn: Every year is a new year, with different missions and tasks. What I do is delegate a lot of the duties and responsibilities, so every one of the officers has a specific project and delegation, and each of them reports back to the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee. I am using the talent we have in our total leadership, and that definitely includes the Board of Trustees.
NWD: With all these independent members, are professional associations selfdefining? Are we in the process of redefining this association?
Dr. Flynn: Yes, I think we have been in the process of redefining the Association. At the national level, the ADA is also in the process of redefining how we (organized dentistry) offer our services, what benefits and endorsed products we have. For instance, our association has expanded its benefits such that whether you own your own small practice or work for a large one, we have a lot of benefits for you professionally and non-professionally. Affinity products are an area we have been looking into in the last several months, and we are offering products — for example, charge cards — that offer great cash-back value. And that is only one dimension. We have health insurance, workers comp, different endorsements for e-claims … The list is quite lengthy, and we will expand upon that even further.
NWD: Let’s review the Association issues, initiatives, activities, programs, and agenda at mid-point in your year. What would you like members and potential members to know about the MDA as it is working for them today?
Dr. Flynn: The number one issue for our association is health care for our citizens, and the number one thing I have on my mind today is our work at the Capitol. We have two bills, one in the Senate and one in the House, which I believe would produce a dynamic change in fee reimbursement. We have had a long struggle with access/barriers to care, and the number one issue is lack of funding. Our bill is asking for 75% of the 2011 median fee, which means that we are going to actually move into the 21st century, whereas we have been somewhere back around 1989 (the last time we had any upgrade). This upgrade would potentially create an enormous positive change in access to care for more than 800,000 Minnesotans participating in state health care programs.
Another priority is to stabilize the dues, expenses, and overhead at the MDA so that we have a very stable, understandable fiscal environment in which to move forward, and to do this without any major changes in our dues structure. As with an individual’s personal finances, knowing we have financial stability in our association that is done appropriately and is accountable is the foundation for engaging the future. Changes we have made make this process more efficient, with better reaction time.
The other area that is going to be huge in our industry is the Affordable Care Act. Changes will be implemented this fall, with our state exchange ready for open enrollment by October. We will be very engaged to make sure the health care of Minnesotans is protected. Our action now is to get on those committees, because right now there are no representatives from the health care industry.
We will continue to promote the Mission of Mercy program after last year’s success. Bemidji will not only host this year’s MOM June 14 and 15, but — big change — the 2013 House of Delegates will be held there for the first time in many years, and we will highlight that community. Coincidentally, this is also the Northwestern District’s centennial. A big year indeed.
My term as president is above all a membership term, with new opportunities for both current and new members. New dentists, for example, will not pay full dues until their fifth year, with the first year free. Restructure of committees has included creating places for new dentists, even combining the New Dentist and Membership Committees to give more opportunity to support CE and social programs with better budgets. That committee also reaches out to the students with activities designed specifically for them.
To the new dentists, I have to say, “This is you — your future, your association — and there will be a lot in it for you here. Your industry needs a unified voice, and that includes you.” The Association is the efforts of its team, and the team is here to get results. The results go back to the members as benefits; member benefits mean success; success means
growth and the energy to continue that growth. This is the message I want to get out.
I am going to brag now. Our team is exceptional. [Executive Director] Carmelo [Cinqueonce] has vision, energy, and discipline. Staff communication has opened up, and we are creating a new team approach at every level.
NWD: Amid all this change, what MDA traditions are being preserved and advanced?
Dr. Flynn: We are very strongly supporting a return to the focus that this association in all its initiatives and activities is member driven, and how we do that is truly up to all of us. I truly believe you, the members, are my team — and I sincerely hope we are not distant from each other. Members want to know what their association is doing and will it be of value: “Is someone thinking clearly and creatively about things that will affect my life?” With a valid end result that people can relate to, communicated in an accurate and understandable way, we will have come a long way to answering that question.
NWD: After being president of the MDA, what’s next?
Dr. Flynn: After this year I will go back to my practice and spend a lot more time on my farm. As for the MDA, that will depend on what Dr. Perpich [MDA president-elect] wants to do. I might stay engaged with the legislative issues. I will continue to be an active member of the MDA, including the fellowship participation I do now. As for any kind of retirement from a career, I don’t see that any time soon, be it dentistry, business, or farming. There’s that “new world” again: I don’t know but that I am going to make it into my 90s, even to 100. I do know that inactivity is not healthy. I still have, and want to continue to have, my drive beyond pursuing hobbies or doing volunteer work.
NWD: You have talked about internal change and about responding to external change as well. Talk about the balance between the two and what that means for the Minnesota Dental Association and its members.
Dr. Flynn: The mission of the Minnesota Dental Association is “to serve as a trusted, credible resource to the public and to support the profession through innovation, advocacy, and education”. Internally, we have established structure, essential for any kind of balance. Now my view of our work externally is about contacting and connecting with the greater community, the patients, and informing them of services. If we do that, the dentists will see it as well, and they will know we are doing our job. And we are not forgetting to provide opportunities for just plain fun for members of this association too. We will continue to pursue “creative opportunity” in all our endeavors, and try to look at, well, everything with new eyes. I have to say that I am different from my predecessor. I am a “bean counter”. I can get almost too analytical. I can tell you that even line items in a budget come with assumptions. That’s a focus I could contribute. My point is, to have freshened leadership every year is a very good thing. I have had my opportunity. The next leadership coming in needs theirs, to make changes that I did not see or couldn’t go to for whatever reason. That is how associations should work. The officer ladder model is a good one, not as a “training” process, but as a process of contribution that can be followed a full four years. We don’t want silence from the “new kid”, but dynamic ideas that can be entertained and developed.