April 2018. I ventured to Washington, D.C., for ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day. The first day prepared nearly 1,100 dentists and dental students for the congressional meetings that followed. While sitting in the grand ballroom of our host hotel, I listened to questions and comments about our legislative issues. Some issues were simpler to understand as a first-year dental student. Others, such as those regarding insurance and its marketplace, seemed more complicated. It was then that I realized my lack of understanding on the intricacies of some legislative issues. I knew that to better understand the issues, to feel confident advocating and to further my advocacy involvement after lobby day, I needed a mentor.
The mentorship experience
I’ve been fortunate to begin developing my own mentor-mentee relationship with our school’s dean and previous ADA president, Dr. Greg Chadwick. During a conversation about the importance of advocacy, he stated, “If students aren’t exposed to it in dental school, then the likelihood they will be after graduating is far less.”
Involvement in lifelong advocacy was becoming more important to me. I knew that Dr. Chadwick would make an exceptional mentor, and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to receive his mentorship. Don’t submit to thinking you’ll find a mentor later or get involved another time. The chances are that you won’t. It’s essential to take advantage of the opportunities that arise in dental school. For those that do not arise, take the initiative to create them. Seeking a mentor is an ideal way to start.
Mentorship gives opportunities to hone skills that are underdeveloped in a mentee and underutilized in a mentor. One example is interactions with local, state or federal legislators. A mentor may possess the skill set for establishing and maintaining successful legislative relationships. For instance, mentors can help navigate the balance of delivering concise “asks” while showing passion and personal dedication to the cause. The success of legislative interactions also depends on appropriate etiquette, preparedness and follow-up after contact. A mentor can introduce you to these interactions and allow for gradual insertion into various aspects until a level of comfort is reached.
My mentor recently helped me hone my own advocacy skills. Dr. Chadwick and I attended the North Carolina Dental Society’s legislative luncheon in May. I spoke with dentists actively involved in advocacy and met previous and current legislators who were in attendance. As dialogue occurred around the room, it became clear that the heart of advocacy and legislation is conversation. Lacking an office environment seemed to promote an ease in conversational flow that I had not before accomplished. This experience helped me understand that whether you’re a legislator, dentist or dental student, we’re all simply people attempting to converse about common goals. The small group setting allowed me to realize that speaking with legislators and dental advocates need not be intimidating. Had my mentor not secured my attendance to this event, I would have missed this experience and the opportunity to develop this understanding.
Recognize that mentors do not fit one mold, too. Dental students have great potential to serve as mentors. Reach out to those serving as your chapter legislative liaisons or committee members. They will be happy to speak with you on all things advocacy, point you toward useful resources and help you get involved. Mentorship may naturally develop as you interact with students who are active advocates. ASDA’s Council on Advocacy is another point of contact. Meeting council members at leadership events, contacting them via email or social media, and taking advantage of advocacy webinars are ways to connect with the council and potentially gain a future mentor.
Learn, advocate, pay it forward
The 2018 ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day was a catalyst for me to seek a mentor. I continue to learn from my mentor and gain opportunities to get involved with advocacy in new ways. While my mentorship resulted from my lobby day experience, your own mentorship need not wait until next year’s meeting to develop. I encourage all students to actively seek a mentor at the local, state, district or national level.
The value of mentorship comes full circle when mentees transition to mentors. I’m looking forward to mentoring my own mentee at next year’s lobby day. If you’re already experiencing a successful mentorship as I am, I urge you to return the favor by finding a mentee of your own.
~Skyler Lagcher, East Carolina ’21, Legislative Coordinator, Districts 4-5