As a non-traditional student who is Native American Indian, I have a personal connection to the social weight of diversity and inclusion. I believe it is critical that we engage conversation with the world around us to push beyond our comfort zones and fully denature personal biases that may impact how we interact with each other and even our patients. Connecting with people from other backgrounds exposes us to unique ideas, perspectives and problem-solving abilities that encourage innovation and growth, and as future dentists, we will treat people from diverse populations who may have unique challenges that we may not fully understand.
I became passionate about advocating for all people groups after an experience I had as a teenager, traveling to Nicaragua to help provide health care. The harsh reality I soon came to understand was that the appalling conditions and lack of provisions I was exposed to through that experience existed here in the United States, too, and since then, I was inspired to reach, serve and bridge the gap between oral health and those populations affected by various barriers to care.
As the district 8 diversity and inclusion chair, I have seen our ASDA members showing increasing support in learning about all the diverse communities that exist within our organization. Earlier this year, UMKC School of Dentistry hosted their inaugural multicultural luncheon where people of various ethnicities within the student body were represented in a student-led presentation. Each of these groups brought a potluck dish to serve at the event and a celebration of culture was displayed via song, traditional clothing, presentation of artifacts and explanation of cultural history. Students of Hispanic, Hawaiian, Middle Eastern, African American, Vietnamese and Native American descent represented their respective cultures.
On a regional level, diversity was celebrated by district 8 during World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development on May 21, 2020. District 8 members used their Instagram page as a platform to share their thoughts on inclusivity and to advocate for the diverse population represented in our district.
Saif Shah, a dental student from Creighton School of Dentistry, said, “Bringing people together with different backgrounds can help generate new ideas or bring in new perspectives that we really weren’t considering before or haven’t been exposed to.”
Hibah Chughtai, who attends the University of Nebraska College of Dentistry, shared, “Experiences of diversity provide insight far beyond what a textbook or PowerPoint could ever present. Understanding that each individual carries a unique perspective becomes absolutely fundamental to being a phenomenal practitioner of dentistry.”
These student contributions promote the belief that a culturally diverse student body enhances our educational opportunities to develop a skill set that is not learned through a didactic course — the ability to empathize, understand and effectively communicate with a diverse population.
As we strive to seek the optimal well-being of our colleagues and patients both today and in the future, we must ensure that diversity is being celebrated and inclusivity is fundamentally practiced. There is tremendous value for practicing dental professionals that lies in the ability to reach, serve and promote superior oral health for a larger population base that is inclusive of all individuals.
~Heather Moore, Missouri-Kansas City ’23, District 8 Diversity and Inclusion Chair