As a first-year dental student, I had no concept of what it meant to be an advocate for the dental profession. And when I took on my first role as the University of North Carolina (UNC) ASDA chapter legislative liaison, I still had no idea. Having no one at UNC to help guide the way, I was overwhelmed. Luckily, a few months after starting the role, I attended the ADA Dentist and Dental Student Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. It was here I realized the breadth of what it meant to be an advocate and how easy and important it is to get involved in dental advocacy.
Every day, the dental profession battles real issues that are paramount to our continued success. We fight for funds and resources allocated to increasing access to care. We stand up for ourselves by finding new ways to pass legislation aimed at lowering student debt. We explain to the public the importance of community water fluoridation and question the integrity of our licensure examinations. Without the power of advocacy and lobbying, our profession would cease to be the success it is today.
Advocacy may seem hard, but it’s not. It starts with seeing something you want to change or getting excited about policies you want to keep in place. For me, this initial issue was student debt. After lobby day, I realized that student debt legislation is something we should have a voice in. It also was an issue relatable to many of my colleagues, allowing me to soon form a legislative committee of 18 people. From there, it was much easier to create positive change within UNC.
The committee drove conversations on various pieces of legislation and added to my ideas of how we could make advocacy a key component of our school. While these new initiatives were off to an excellent start, it was with the help of ASDA that our mission really began taking off.
I first listened to the annual Advocacy 101 webinar hosted by ASDA’s national Council on Advocacy. The webinar introduces advocacy and provides ASDA members with tangible ideas on what they can do at their school. It gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to continue working toward an established advocacy presence at UNC.
Later that year, with the help of our national legislative coordinator, we hosted our first advocacy month. We also began new initiatives such as small group lunch discussions on hot topics in dental legislation with students and school faculty, and formed a partnership with our local dental society. Everything we accomplished in this first year was possible because of a small group of people who wanted to spark change as well as the established background of knowledge and assistance from ASDA.
Your next steps
Start by dreaming big. Be persistent in your ideals, and be open to the voices of your colleagues and your patients. Advocacy is not the job of one individual — it’s the job of everyone collaboratively working to push the profession forward to be better and more inclusive than ever before. Everyone has the power to be a part of this change.
To learn more about advocacy, get answers to your questions and gain more tangible knowledge on how to get involved, join the Council on Advocacy for its first webinar of the year. We hope to give you the knowledge and skills needed to be a successful advocate the same way the Advocacy 101 webinar did for me two years ago. Cook dinner, go to the gym, or take your dog for a walk and listen along as we share some insight at 7:30 p.m. CDT Sept. 12 during our Advocacy 101 webinar.
~Kate McPherson, North Carolina ’20, ASDA Council on Advocacy Chair