“Has your school begun mandating self-quarantines?”
“Have you had any COVID-19 cases in your state yet?”
Instead of the usual, “How was your flight?” or “Are you ready to graduate?” these were the questions that I was greeted with by friends from all over the country at ASDA’s Annual Session in St. Louis last month. At the time, I had the very naive thinking that this was all an overreaction. Of course, lobby day 2020 would take place on the Hill and the 2020-21 national ASDA councils would seamlessly transition into their new roles at the Spring Council leadership meeting in Chicago. I would also be walking across the graduation stage in May. However, I soon began scratching each of these exciting and important items off of my calendar as COVID-19 moved across the country.
What is comforting to know in this time of disappointment and uncertainty, is that ASDA has been by the side of dental students every step of the way. Two of the main issues we are facing as dental students are concerns over finances (particularly student loans), as well as the postponement of licensure examinations and experiences needed for graduation.
In regards to the first point, ASDA sent letters to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer asking for legislation that accomplished two things. The first was deferment of interest on all federal student loans for dental students and dental residents. The second was deferment of all monthly payments on federal student loans for dentists without penalty. With the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law at the end of March, federal student loan borrowers will not be required to make a payment on their loans and no interest will accumulate through Sept. 30.
For my fellow dental students in their final year, I know this is an especially challenging time in regards to the postponement of licensure examinations and experiences needed for graduation. There is no definitive great news yet; however, while ASDA is fighting every day for you, it is even more exciting to see grassroots advocates all over the nation stand up and help lead the charge to graduation. Licensure reform is way overdue, and this current crisis is a good time to drive the conversation forward.
At ASDA, we are delivering a unified message that dental schools and educators should be looking for alternative ways to ensure their students graduate on time. We also continue advocating for alternative pathways to initial dental licensure that do not include a live patient. We are pleased to report ASDA’s collaboration with the American Association of Dental Boards, ADEA and regional testing agencies have led to an accelerated release of many agencies’ manikin-based clinical examination.
- On March 26, Western Regional Examining Board (WREB) announced an internal work group to fast track a non-patient-based exam to be implemented this year due to exceptional circumstances.
- On April 1, the Central Regional Dental Testing Services (CRDTS) announced the release of their all-manikin exam. This exam is an option for the periodontal and restorative procedures traditionally administered on a patient.
- On April 6, the American Board of Dental Examiners (ADEX) announced its release of the CompeDont DTX. It is a non-patient-based restorative examination that uses the CompeDont™ DTX, a new manikin tooth technology developed by the CDCA and Acadental, Inc.
- On April 13, the Southern Regional Testing Agency (SRTA) announced the release of their manikin-based restorative skills module using cutting-edge dental products that are highly effective in simulating a live patient’s dental procedures.
Furthermore, on April 2 the ADA Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations approved the release of the Dental Licensure Objective Structured Clinical Examination (DLOSCE), which will be available for use in June 2020. ASDA is working with district trustees and local ASDA leaders on a state-by-state licensure strategy, urging state dental boards to accept these alternative pathways to initial dental licensure for 2020 graduates.
ASDA is committed to being the voice of dental students all over the nation now more than ever, despite the setbacks and cancellation or postponement of all in-person meetings. It breaks my heart to not be standing on Capitol Hill with you all this spring, continuing to push the field of dentistry to new and better heights. However, I know you are all being incredibly fierce advocates every day during this difficult time. What an incredible time to unite and push the conversation forward on issues such as licensure reform and student debt, which seem to be getting the attention they deserve. Keep advocating, and I will see you all on Capitol Hill in 2021.
~Kate McPherson, North Carolina ’20