The question every fourth-year student is asking themselves right now is this: “What am I going to do after graduation?” While some may spend hours weighing different residency programs, others may contemplate joining a corporate or private practice. But there is another option to consider: advocacy.
Dr. James Wanamaker, “hASDA-been” and 2015-16 Council on Advocacy chair, has been able to incorporate advocacy into his post-grad journey. After graduating from the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in 2016, he served as a legislative intern for Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) before starting his general practice residency at SUNY Upstate and the Syracuse VA. Simpson is one of four dentist members of Congress and has over 20 years of political experience.
“I wanted to widen my perspective on the legislative process by experiencing it from a staff viewpoint, so that I could be more effective advocating in the future,” Dr. Wanamaker says. “My hope was to also use this experience to aid in my role on the work group that planned the first ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. The benefits were seeing firsthand what strategies were effective and ineffective when meeting with a staffer or contacting an office on a particular issue.”
The experience reaffirmed the importance of ASDA’s advocacy efforts. He saw how many individuals came to Washington D.C. throughout the year to lobby on behalf of the groups they represent. He shared that lawmakers and staffers are impressed with how prepared students and dentists are during congressional meetings.
Dr. Wanamaker viewed this experience as another leadership opportunity to help him become a better advocate for the profession. The skills he gained from the internship have helped him in his associateship, his community and within organized dentistry.
“I learned how congressional offices are run on a daily basis and the impact that staffers and constituents have on the legislative process,” he says. “I also heard how our legislators tactfully addressed constituents with differing viewpoints. This skill is beneficial well beyond Washington; as a dentist, you may have patients who have differing opinions on your recommended treatment plan. Understanding how to see beyond your differences to work with others is a valuable skill in our profession.”
Dr. Wanamaker recommends that any student who is interested in learning more about advocacy take advantage of these types of opportunities. Mentorship and a strong resume can help prepare you for this. “One of the most valuable resources I found within organized dentistry is mentorship through leaders such as Dr. Richard Andolina. He and Sarah Milligan at ADPAC were vital in setting up my internship,” he says. “In addition to mentors, have a well-rounded resume and be flexible with your dates. The month between graduation and starting residency was the perfect time for me to get involved.”
Dr. Wanamaker’s story exemplifies the power of advocacy. He’s seen firsthand that attending lobby day makes a difference. So take advantage of every opportunity to get involved in ASDA advocacy while in dental school. There is also still time to attend an Advocacy Month event. Ask your legislative liaison to attend lobby day. Send a letter to your lawmaker about student debt. These actions will help you become a better advocate. Then when it comes time to ask the universal fourth-year question, don’t count advocacy out.
“Start small and work your way up,” Dr. Wanamaker says. “I joined my local dental society and am now the chair of the new dentist committee in my area. I also reached out to our local ADPAC action team leader to be a resource to him and my congressman. Also, if you have the opportunity to attend a state or national lobby day, I highly recommend it.”
We are fortunate to be a part of a profession where 20 dentists serve as state legislators and four serve as members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Twenty-four politicians, hailing from 16 states, in a single occupation makes a statement. This ability to make our voice heard through our members and our advocates on Capitol Hill is what betters our profession. So while your school involvement with advocacy may stop at an ADPAC membership, know that the avenue into advocacy is paved with Rely-X Luting Plus cement from the dentists that have come before us.
~Sean Aiken, Louisville ’18, District 7 Trustee
About Sean Aiken
Sean Aiken is a fourth-year student at Louisville and the District 7 trustee.