February 22, 2008, Northwest Dentistry sat down with MDA president for
2007-2008 Dr. Jamie Sledd to take a measure of the year so far. We discovered a
dentist whose path has been anything but traditional, let alone predictable,
and a woman who has employed an open mind and the willingness to pursue
opportunity to great result.
traditionally begin with background information from our presidents: where you
grew up, your family (any dentists?), education, and why you decided on a
career in dentistry.
Sledd: I grew up in Topeka,
Kansas — Tornado Alley. One vivid
memory is June 8, 1966. A major tornado hit the town and almost destroyed it.
We were sitting on the couch watching a Charlie Brown special on TV and we
never went to the basement!
I am the
middle child of five, and the only dentist in the family. I have strong
memories of my dental experiences, and they were always very positive. I
probably didn’t go to the dentist as often as I would recommend for my
patients, but my parents did the best they could. After graduation from high
school, I started college, but I just wasn’t mature enough. I literally wasn’t
ready, and I failed, and dropped out. At that point my parents had moved to Minneapolis, the siblings
were dispersing, and there I was with my grandma. [pause] My grandma was my
best friend, and when I really dig down deep, she was the one who influenced me
in dentistry. Grandma lost her teeth when she was 27, and teeth and smiles were
of the utmost importance to her. It was always important to her that we had
healthy smiles, healthy mouths. And she wasn’t allied to the profession at all.
when did you aim for dentistry?
Sledd: When I was 17, I was going through ortho (a little later than most kids
start), and I just loved my orthodontist, Dr. Paul Boatwright. In Kansas at that time you
didn’t have to be registered or certified, so I started working as his dental
assistant, and I was hooked! He was so good, and he taught me so many things.
That was the real beginning of my dental career. I ultimately moved to Minneapolis, started
working as an assistant in ortho, endo, oral surgery and general practice. I
worked for a wonderful periodontist named Neil Covin. And I got to thinking, I
can do this! Still not registered or certified, and thus very limited in what I
could do, I thought, ‘If I’m going back to school, why not just keep going?’ I
went to dental school, and here I am.
had so many good mentors along the way, so many wonderful people to support me.
Take Neil Covin. When I was in dental school I could always call him with
questions. Success always seems to include people who weren’t just standing in
the distance trying to be good examples but who were there with their sleeves
rolled up willing to help, and it doesn’t stop when you get your D.D.S. These
people deeply touch our lives and don’t even realize how special that is.
what point are you in your practice life?
I graduated from Marquette in 1988, practiced in
four years, then bought my practice here in 1992. I’m a solo practitioner. I
would love to have somebody join my practice in the next few years and help me
move it forward. I’m not actively looking, but I would love to have someone to
work with, to bring on. That would be a great experience. It’s a challenge to
be a solo practitioner, but I’m so fortunate: I have a great group of
endodontists across the hall, oral surgeons next door, perio upstairs, all a
phone call or e-mail away.
did you begin in organized dentistry?
Sledd: I love to be involved. I don’t know how to say no. But to me it’s more
about giving back. If I can take the same enthusiasm and support someone gave
me and give it to the next person, to me that is what the world is all about.
did that bring you to the presidency?
Sledd: I was on the Scientific Session Committee for six years. What a great
opportunity! Everyone says, “My goodness, you give so much” when you take on
these roles, but I have to say, I got so much, honestly - so much it actually
feels kind of selfish. I remember the last day I was SSC chair. I crossed paths
with Tim Langguth, who was MDA president at that time, and he said, “What are
you going to do next?” [laughter] I said, “Tim, you put me where you need me.”
[really laughs] When he said “officer”, I was terrified. There was a lot of
soul searching. I called my husband Tom right away, and he said, “Of course you
do it.” I asked my brother Judd, and he said, “Of course you do.” And it just
went from there: nothing but support. If you build a history of good
experiences from taking on challenges, and you recognize the support that’s
around you, it will work. Those are such big things. You can’t do it by
yourself. I wish we could find the magic words that would help the membership
at large realize really what comes from volunteering your time, from stepping
up to the plate and saying, “I can help out”, because it makes so much difference.
It isn’t the difference I can make, it’s the difference we can make. And it
affects so many people. So here I am. I didn’t say no, and it has been a great
NWD: What did you learn about dentistry as a
life choice through these contacts?
Sledd: We all go through
phases in both our professional and our personal lives, and they weave in and
out of each other. Right now I am coming to the end of a personal challenge. My
husband Tom is an industrial electrician, and his work in support of the
scientists in Antactica, McMurdo Station and other research facilities has kept
him there since last September. This is his third trip to Antarctica,
but the first since our marriage. Currently he is responsible for what’s called
“heat trace”. Tom must insure any pipe carrying a liquid does not freeze. He is
quite the adventurer, and I am very proud of him. The separation is difficult,
but the support from the dental community has been overwhelming. MDA treasurer
Todd Tsuchiya has been my greatest support; Tom Karn, my endo friend from
across the hall, has been another. For anything, personal or professional, they
are always just a phone call away. Tom took me bowling with him and his
four-year-old twins! I am not a bowler. Thank heavens for bumpers!
have to ask: How do you meet someone like an Antarctic explorer?
Sledd: [laughs] He was a patient! Right before he went to the South Pole the
first time, I did his whole dental exam and gave him a clean bill of health. A
year and a half later he came back prior to his second trip. Another year and
half, another exam, and when we were done he said, “Would you like to see
pictures?” We went to dinner, looked at pictures, and the rest is history.
does it mean to be a dentist now compared to when you started out?
Sledd: I think about how I’ve gained more knowledge and maturity from when I
graduated to today, my start as an associate in group practice, the transfer to
solo practice. My dentistry has certainly changed, and is hopefully more
comprehensive. One thing I always focus on is that I’m not treating a tooth,
I’m treating a person, an individual who has a heart, and that is very
important to me in how I work. It’s about the relationship with my patients,
and with the wonderful women with whom I get to work. I have to say, we have a
ball! I’m “Jamie” at the office, not “Dr. Sledd”. Some of my dearest friends
started as my patients. That’s what I enjoy about my work: getting to know
people for who they are, their values, what gives them joy and passion.
you were on the officers’ ladder, what did you have to learn that was outside
your own practice or life experience? How did your personality fit, or not fit,
Sledd: I’ve never had a fear of public speaking, so that part has been fine
from the start. However, I am not a political person. I’ve had to pull many
resources to teach me along the way. One thing I have learned is that I don’t
have to know it all. There are others who have greater strengths in given areas
than I do. It’s about all of us coming together to move forward in the best
interest of Minnesota
dentists and our patients. You have to be open and willing to put your own
agenda aside for the well being of all Minnesota
dentists. Being MDA president is a job, absolutely. But it comes with the vast
knowledge and experience of someone like Dick Diercks — wow! He’s amazing, and
he makes me look good. He is the resource. Then there is the diverse group of
trustees we have, and what a luxury it is to get to work with and discover
these people. There’s a great synergy that gets going.
kept you motivated for those four years on the officers’ ladder?
Sledd: The support you get from everybody. I never had the sense that I could
fail because there are so many people rallying around me to share their
knowledge and support.
had you observed other presidents, officers, or members do that impressed you
along the way?
Sledd: My predecessors, Pat Foy, Jim Zenk, and Dick Wiberg, were all very
strong and passionate about their convictions, and worked very hard to take the
Association to the next level, following their integrity to what was best for
our association and our patients. I so admired their ability and willingness to
work as hard as they did to do the right thing.
are your own areas of special interest?Dr.
Sledd: The officers’ ladder and Board of Trustees was tremendous preparation
for being president, and immediate past Director of Meetings Dianne Blake was a
great support. When I began this, I asked her, “What is my strength? What do I
have to bring to the table?” She said, “You’ll figure it out.” And I have.
it is communications. I have worked really hard to broaden and expand
communications to the membership so they can truly have a sense of what’s
happening. I want them to know every step of the way, not just at the last
minute. One of my goals is to have somebody say to me, “Quit sending me so many
e-mails! I get it!”
developed a wonderful website that’s full of information. Northwest Dentistry
is an award-winning journal that provides fabulous information and gives people
new ideas to follow and consider. Then we have our legislative alerts and “News
and Views” so the membership not only has an understanding of what is going on
but can act. It is a whole process of “layers of ability” in the communications
this association can provide. That’s a full-time job in itself. We have
wonderful staff and support, a great team.
Let’s look at the Association issues, initiatives, activities, and programs we
have at midpoint in your year as its president. What is on the legislative
Sledd: We’re currently working very hard with the legislature to move our
issues forward, to provide better access for the underserved. That’s the issue
that is never going to go away. Other issues we’re working on include a
single-payer system for dental health reimbursements through the state. We are
looking to expand the loan forgiveness programs to include internationally
educated dentists and dental hygienists who practice under collaborative
agreements and who agree to serve in under-served communities. We’re certainly
looking to continue to develop the Collaborative Agreement program with
hygienists. We had another successful Give Kids a Smile program in February,
and we want to nurture that. I sincerely want to thank everybody who took part.
And we want to develop grassroots initiatives in every part of Minnesota so
that everyone’s voice can be heard. That is a vital part of the communications
picture – ideas have to flow in both directions. We want to hear about what is
important to our members.
comes after the presidency for you?
Sledd: That’s going to be a tough one. I will very much miss these
relationships. They’ll continue, but in a different way. I’m sure Tom and I
will take a vacation – perhaps the Boundary Waters – at the end of September.
I’m very involved at the Pankey Institute; I’m part of the visiting faculty. It
will be fun to increase my level of involvement with them again. There are so
many opportunities to give back, both at the MDA and elsewhere. I have learned
that you can’t plan every step, every detail. Let the ripple effect work for
you: Do something, and opportunities open up. I would love to convince people
how well that can work. But it takes time to become comfortable with that
closing, what would you like to tell the MDA’s members?
Sledd: I would like to thank every member for being part of the Association
because the MDA is about you, the members. And for every one of you who has said yes when we’ve
called and asked for help, thank you. I really appreciate the input everybody has. I especially want to thank all of the officers, both current and those who paved the way, and to thank Dick Diercks for everything he does. Deep appreciation
goes to all our staff members - I wish I could name every one of them.
To our members, I want to reiterate that we are
working very hard on your behalf, and we will continue to do so. Thank you for