Dentists and dental students came together in Washington, D.C., March 20-22 to discuss issues affecting the dental profession, network with students and practitioners from across the country, and meet with members of Congress. For many students like me, this was the first time attending an in-person Lobby Day due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years. This was also my first time in Washington, D.C. The energy of the city matched that of attendees ready to pave the path for the future of our profession!
On the first day, students attended the ASDA/new dentist roundtable discussion. During this session, students and ADA leaders discussed the benefits and support that the ADA provides to new dentists and students. Walking out of this session, I realized that members of the ADA appreciate the student perspective and want to help guide us as new dentists.
Following the roundtable discussion, students connected at the ASDA Session and Issue Review led by the 2021-2022 National ASDA Council on Advocacy. We discussed each of the five bills that we would lobby for with our lawmakers. We explored how each bill affects us as dental students, future practitioners and the dental profession. The bills we discussed included:
- H.R. 2160. Student Loan Refinancing Act
- H.R. 4122/S. 3658. Resident Education Deferred Interest (REDI) Act
- H.R. 4439/S. 3166. Medicaid Dental Benefit Act of 2021
- H.R. 3461/S. 1793. Dental and Optometric Care (DOC) Access Act of 2021
- H.R. 1916/S. 754. Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act (ELSA)
The bill I felt most passionate about was the bipartisan Resident Education Deferred Interest (REDI) Act. I see the student debt crisis as a large hindrance to those who want to practice dentistry in underserved communities. New dentists should not be forced to make the decision to take a job that pays more money versus a job that would serve more people in need. Currently, this bill has six co-sponsors in the House and one co-sponsor in the Senate, as this bill was just introduced in the Senate last month. Since our efforts at Lobby Day, Rep. Mike Simpson from Idaho, a former dentist, joined this list of co-sponsors. I am hopeful that our meetings with members of Congress will lead to more co-sponsors of the bill in the House and the Senate.
The ASDA session concluded with the presentation of ASDA’s Legislative Liaison of the Year Awards. These awards were presented to five outstanding advocacy leaders from across the country in recognition of their tireless efforts to engage students in advocacy. Congratulations to my friend Bradley Mobeck, Los Angeles ’24, who was awarded the National Legislative Liaison of the Year Award. Overall, the ASDA session led to great discussion, and students felt prepared to conquer Lobby Day! It was inspiring to see so many students engaging in these discussions and excited about the future of the dental profession.
Day two started with opening remarks from the ADA President Dr. Ceasar Sabates and ASDA President Justina Anigbo. Justina encouraged attendees to embrace this experience and carry their enthusiasm for advocacy back home. Next, I joined the New Jersey delegation to role play the “How to Meet with Your Member of Congress” session. I wanted to loosen some of the tension that first-time attendees were feeling about meeting with their lawmaker or legislative staff. Our playful enactment helped demonstrate what a meeting with your congressperson might look like, whether that was virtual or in person.
During lunch, students and dentists met by state to discuss their strategy for congressional meetings the next day. For my state of California, Dr. Amir Kazim and Dr. Stephens (13th district ADA trustee) led the discussion, and it was decided that students would take the lead on most of the bills. I enjoyed collaborating with both students and dentists in small groups.
Tuesday was the big day: meetings with congressional offices. Depending on the state, some meetings took place in person on Capitol Hill, and some took place virtually. For my state of California, I had five meetings: four were virtual, and one was in person at Representative Eric Swalwell’s office. I was in awe of the building and having the opportunity to advocate for issues important to dental students face to face. By the end of the day, the whole group felt comfortable lobbying the issues. It was encouraging to see that all the staffers we met with were supportive of our issues.
Overall, we received a great response from our members of Congress and hope this translates into more co-sponsors for each bill. This conference was such a unique and rewarding experience. I met so many new students and dentists who emphasized their desire to help me in the future. I hope to maintain these relationships throughout my career. It was so inspiring to see our advocacy efforts come to life.
Thank you to all participants for uniting in advocating for our profession! If you couldn’t attend, there is still a way to capitalize on the success of our efforts. Send your lawmakers letters on these issues. This will help amplify our voice and demonstrate the power of #ASDAadvocacy.
~Ariana Motavalli, Los Angeles ’23