Officers of the dental schools's ASDA chapter gather after a Dec. 2 Mock Congress debate

Officers of the dental school chapter of the American Student Dental Association

A group of dental students at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry (TAMBCD) is creating unique learning experiences for their peers that they might not otherwise receive in the clinic or classroom.

The topic: how state and federal legislation impacts dental students and the profession as a whole. The method is an “advocacy academy,” a yearlong push consisting of educational events geared toward helping fellow dental students understand the legislative process.

“Our whole goal here is education,” says third-year dental student Stephanie Ganter, District 9 advocacy chair for the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) and a legislative liaison committee member for the TAMBCD chapter. “We are not trying to advocate for a certain politician. What we are trying to do is expose students to what is out there and to help them understand how different kinds of legislation may impact them. Our goal is to show students how policy affects them today and how it will affect them in a few years.”

The chapter’s initiative began in September 2014 with a legislative kickoff. In small groups, dental students rotated through several stations, and at each, legislative liaison committee members shared the basics behind several hot-button issues within dentistry, including student loan debt, mid-level dental providers and community water fluoridation. In December, a Mock Congress debate demonstrated how bills can be passed into law, and a student-run “Teach Me How to Lobby” lunch-and-learn event is in the works for late January.

It all culminates Feb. 25 with Lobby Day at the state Capitol. Before dawn, as many as 25 TAMBCD students — some of whom are recruited during ASDA’s advocacy events — will board a bus with approximately 50 Dallas County Dental Society members to make the trip to Austin. There they’ll join dentists from across the state as well as students from the two other Texas dental schools for meetings with representatives.

“Our biggest challenge is the ‘Who cares?’ moment,” Ganter says of interacting with legislators. “They might be thinking, ‘Why should I care about dentistry? I’ve got insurance to worry about; I’ve got education to worry about.’ Presence makes a difference. If we have a lot of people, that says more than any words.”

Danette McNew, D.D.S., 1988 TAMBCD alumna and immediate past president of the Dallas County Dental Society (DCDS), attends the event and says that during the day’s meetings every dental student is paired with a DCDS member.

“The dentists initiate the conversation with the representative, and the dental students are encouraged to share their viewpoints as well,” McNew says. “It’s very impactful. They have an opportunity to talk with representatives from a student’s perspective. That has a lot of weight.”

Once Lobby Day has passed, students will begin planning specifics for 2015-2016 advocacy events.

“It’s all about getting students interested and involved,” says Ganter. “You don’t have to have a passion for legislation and advocacy; you just have to know it affects you.”

— Jennifer Fuentes

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