ASDA District 1 Leadership Conference 2017 Recap: Perspective from a Predental Student – Hilary Wong (Northeastern University undergrad)

Saturday evening, I left the ASDA District 1 Leadership Conference with my very own ASDA mug, two different tooth-shaped stress balls, and a lot of ASDA fever.

The ASDA District 1 Leadership Conference, hosted by Boston University School of Medicine on Saturday, February 11, 2017, was unlike any conference that I had previously attended. Originally organized as a conference for ASDA dental students in New England, this year the conference launched its very first predental track, welcoming the attendance of predental students from all over New England.

The theme of this year’s conference was Dr. Seuss: “Kid, You’ll Move Mountains.” Throughout the day, Dr. Seuss’ memorable and meaningful quotes were seamlessly integrated into each different event, altogether calling us students to take bold action. The Hielbert conference room, where all the dental and predental students first gathered in the morning, was decorated with bright red and light blue balloons and matching table cloths. Everyone received a red paper bags of ASDA-themed swag.

What stood out to me the most about this conference was its variety of guest speakers. I heard presentations from a diverse group of organizations involved in every aspect of the dental field: from malpractice insurance and corporate dentistry to an online dental educational community and the American Dental Association (ADA). The most intriguing presentations, however, were delivered by distinguished leaders in the field of dentistry – Dr. Judi Fisch, Dr. Kris Mendoza, and Dr. Jonathan Shenkin.

It was enlightening to hear from these different perspectives, as I took their words as different elements of a greater story of the ever-evolving dental field. From Dr. Judi Fisch, the former ADA District One Trustee, I learned about the opposition and skepticism she encountered from her closest family members, friends, and school guidance counselor when she announced her dream of becoming a dentist, simply because she was female. It was shocking to hear that when she served on the ADA Board of Trustees, she was one of only three women in such a high position of influence. Although people are generally more accepting of female dentists in contemporary society, gender disparities in this profession still exist. As political activist and former ADA Vice President Dr. Jonathan Shenkin pointed out, there are currently four dentists who work in Congress, and all of them are white males. It made me wonder, what is my role in the field of dentistry as a female leader? What can I be doing right now as a predental student to empower my peers?

As if my thoughts were immediately heard, guest speaker Dr. Kris Mendoza, the 2014-2015 ASDA President and a current Dental Anesthesiology resident at UCLA, shared valuable tips to enhance one’s leadership capabilities. He proposed the overarching questions: Why is leadership important in dentistry? What is our vision of leadership? Then, he elaborated on the different obstacles hindering one to lead confidently, and solutions to potential difficult situations. My biggest takeaway? Leadership is not a position; it is an action. Leaders should have a purpose in what they do and treat each teammate as a unique individual in order to play to everyone’s strengths.

In the afternoon, dental students and predental students separated into their respective tracks. For its very first year, the predental track was a huge success! Over forty-five predental students were engaged in a full schedule of events: a brief seminar about organized dentistry, a Question and Answer session with representatives of Admissions from various New England dental schools, a workshop on personal statement and interviewing, and Dental Student Panel. What I loved most about this program was seeing all the District 1 dental schools being represented in one setting. After hearing the panels of admissions representatives and dental students, I definitely felt like I had a better sense of the special personalities of each school and their values.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend such a wonderful conference and learn more about the current landscape of my dream profession. As a predental student from Boston, home of three dental schools, I have been to many local dental-related conferences in the past few years. However, this was the first conference that I have been to where I could hear from so many different people from so many unique backgrounds at once. I loved expanding my understanding of the dental field, challenging and modifying the thoughts that I originally had about certain aspects of the profession. To all predental and dental students, I would highly recommend attending this conference; there is a message for every ASDA member, regardless of where you are in your education. I would like to give a huge shout out to all the District 1 ASDA leaders who worked hard in making this conference a success!  It was a blast mingling with old friends and new peers, eating delicious food, listening to incredible speakers – ultimately growing as leaders and agents of change within our important field, shaping the future of oral health.

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