By now, you know the importance of networking when it comes to landing the perfect residency or associateship. However, when it comes to advocacy, is it really all about who you know? The short answer is yes.
Dental school gives us the opportunity to make valuable connections with future colleagues, experts in our field and those who determine the fate of the dental field. We’ve chosen a profession that requires community involvement and activism at all levels of government. As students, it is important that we use the vast networks of our dental and individual communities to further advocacy initiatives. This will allow us the opportunity to have a seat at the table and make our voices heard. The following outlines how we can tap into our networks for the sake of advocacy.
1. Know the issues.
Being informed and knowing the current issues pertinent to dentistry is key. This means being familiar with the scientific literature, gauging the political climate and understanding how to articulate your concerns on different dental-related topics. So much of fighting for the interest of dental students lies in our ability to stay up-to-date on changing legislation and movements within our field; one can never be too informed. ASDA’s advocacy webpage has a lot of great information on our legislative priorities and reading our monthly e-newsletter, Advocacy Brief, will help to ensure that you don’t miss any pertinent updates.
2. Identify your contacts.
Organized dentistry provides you with a wealth of potential contacts. There are over 161,000 dentists who are members of the American Dental Association. Beyond the national level, 53 state and 545 local dental societies exist. Reaching out to a faculty member or a fellow dental student who is involved with your state or local dental association is a great place to start. But don’t stop here. Think about your personal contacts, too. You may have family members or friends who work in finance or the public health sector. They can be great allies in advancing advocacy efforts.
3. Cultivate your relationships.
Cultivating meaningful relationships is the next step to leveraging your contacts. This can be achieved by attending state and local events, ASDA meetings, ADPAC fundraisers and more. Take advantage of opportunities such as ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day to connect with legislative aides and members of congressional staff, who can be great resources in the future. Aim to see and be seen by the leaders of organized dentistry. Many of them will recognize a familiar face and spark up a conversation about your time in dental school or your plans for the future. These events are the place to really shine and solidify your personal relationships with each of your contacts.
4. Make “the ask.”
Now that you’ve built these relationships, you can make “the ask.” This could be inviting a state dental association leader to speak at an advocacy event or asking them to help you get a meeting with a legislator. This works for your personal contacts too. Reach out to your college friend who works at a finance company that provides student loan refinancing and ask her if she could share any resources with you. Have dinner with that family member who is employed in the public health sector and brainstorm solutions to barriers to care. Anyone can help let your voice be heard. Working as a legislative intern on Capitol Hill during a summer in college helped me make friendships with people I still keep in contact with today.
5. Maintain your relationships.
One of the most difficult parts of leveraging your contacts is maintaining those relationships. We are all busy keeping up with school, acing exams and caring for our patients in the clinic. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend many local, state and national networking events early in my dental career, and I’ve learned many lessons. Most notably, the importance of fostering meaningful relationships with those who are more experienced rather than with a large number of colleagues.
As a dental student, I have found that we have a limited time frame to develop close relationships with the members of organized dentistry before we graduate and enact change ourselves. But don’t forget about the personal connections you’ve made throughout your life that are outside of dentistry. These people can offer a different perspective and give insight that our traditional contacts may not. Find a member of your community, and stress your passion for the issues that matter to you. Ask for help and guidance in the path to making real, substantive legislative transformations. And don’t forget to say thank you!
~Steven Erbeck, New York ’20, Districts 1-3 Legislative Coordinator