Growing up in Baltimore, I often drove past congressional buildings and watched people dressed in business suits stroll down crosswalks. I thought nothing of how their actions and the decisions they were making would affect me and, ultimately, the profession that I would undertake.
My understanding of the role of congresspeople and staffers changed at the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. At my first lobby day, I spoke with Pennsylvania representatives. I remember how nervous our team was as we waited to meet with such important leaders. We were going to voice concerns on how barriers to care and student debt were adding challenges to the care of patients, and we had no idea what kind of reception we would receive.
In the meeting, we provided statistics on dental care costs, how many individuals face disparities when accessing oral health care and will not see a dentist this year, and how much student debt has risen over a span of 10 years. We placed our paper with these numbers onto the table and everyone’s eyes in the room got wide. The disbelief about those facts prompted the representatives and staff to ask us more. It became clear they did not know about the issues affecting our patients and our profession.
It was this experience that made me realize how important it is for us as dental students to be advocates. We deliver care to our patients daily and can speak about our real-world experiences from dental school and the clinic. We are the dental students who volunteer at different outreach events such as Give Kids A Smile and Missions of Mercy to provide care to those who need it the most. Because we have this expertise, it is our responsibility to make sure our voice is represented and heard in the very location where decisions and votes are being made on a daily basis.
November is ASDA’s Advocacy Month. The theme is “Midterms Matter: Add Your Voice,” and the Council on Advocacy wants to help you raise your voice for dental student issues. You may say to yourself, “I’m just one person, one vote — what does it matter?” I dare you to think differently and to consider the voice dental students have when thousands of us speak together. At last year’s lobby day, the words “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu” were shared. Let’s join together and make our place at the table. Only then can we continue to impact change to our profession, how we practice once we graduate and our patients’ access to oral health care.
The Council on Advocacy encourages everyone to “Find out. Reach out. Speak out.” for dental student issues this midterm season. Lobbying on Capitol Hill isn’t the only way to make a difference as a dental advocate. Here are a few ways you can engage with advocacy this month:
- Join the competitions. There are several predoctoral chapter and individual competitions this year, including the ASDA Advocacy Political Cartoon Challenge. This competition requests your best advocacy dental puns. Even if you’re not the greatest artist, partner with a friend because who doesn’t love a good pun! Check out the “Challenges” tab on the Advocacy Month webpage to learn more about all of the month’s competitions.
- Attend the webinar and read about ASDA’S key issues. We’ll be focusing on different advocacy initiatives throughout the month. Follow @dentalstudents to receive weekly information on the issues. You also don’t want to miss the Nov. 13 webinar on the opioid crisis. This issue specifically requires interprofessional collaboration and communication, and we hope to highlight that during our webinar.
- Engage with the Molar Bear. ASDA’s advocacy mascot, Molar Bear, will be traveling all throughout the country visiting dental schools. Check in with your chapter legislative liaison to see what advocacy events will be held and when the Molar Bear will visit your school. This is an easy way share what you or your chapter has done to advance important advocacy initiatives this year with dental students across the nation.
- Vote! Head over to ASDA’s Engage website to make sure you know where to find your polling information. For help with this tool, check out the video created by the Council on Advocacy. After you vote, snap a photo of yourself with ASDA’s “I voted” sign for the “I am a dental voter” challenge.
No matter how you engage this election season, your participation makes a difference. I think back to how the representatives revealed that they did not know much about the dental issues or the amount of debt dental students were taking on and how that affects our decision on where to practice. Our voice and our perspective are unique because it’s not only representative of us as dental students but of our current and future patients.
This year, I challenge you to be a dental voter by learning about the issues, getting involved with advocacy and going out to the polls to raise your voice. It matters.
~Lauren Yap, Temple ’19, Council on Advocacy Chair
About Lauren Yap
Lauren Yap, Temple '19, has served as the district 3 advocacy consultant and Temple's advocacy chair/legislative liaison. Currently, she serves at the national chair for the Council on Advocacy. She also is pursuing her master's degree in public health.