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During the past few weeks, I had the chance to travel to several cities and meet with people, including many of our alumni, who are doing some remarkable things.

First, I had the opportunity to attend the graduation ceremony for Dr. Cindy Lyon, chair of our Department of Dental Practice, from the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program. A one-year program of leadership training for women in academic medicine, dentistry and public health, ELAM is part of the International Center for Executive Leadership in Academics at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA.

Each year, ELAM selects a group of 54 women candidates from a significantly large pool of applicants. The applicants have already demonstrated leadership, but this is an opportunity to improve on their leadership skills. They ask the deans to come to two days of graduation activities at the end of the program, and I had the opportunity to participate.

Dr. Lyon graduated from the prestigious ELAM program.
Dr. Lyon graduated from the prestigious ELAM program.

I was extremely impressed with Cindy and the project she has accomplished as part of the program. Her project focused on the future move of our Dental Hygiene program from Stockton to San Francisco. While that may seem somewhat simple, it is a very complex project because it involves many people and areas. I heard a high number of positive comments about Cindy from her fellow classmates.

The next activity, which I enjoyed immensely, was attending the California Dental Association’s annual meeting in Anaheim held April 30-May 2. I had an opportunity to meet with many of our alumni from throughout the region. The Pacific Dugoni Alumni Reception held at the Anabella Hotel was a great opportunity to connect. I heard so many positive stories about what our alums are doing, not only in their practices, but also in their personal lives, and how they are giving back to their communities. As we all know, we are proud of our graduates. Meeting our alumni at these types of events reinforces that strong feeling. It is always inspiring to hear about their achievements and leadership in their local communities.

Meeting with alumni at the Pacific Dugoni Alumni Reception held at the Anabella Hotel during CDA Presents - Anaheim.

Finally, on May 2, I had the opportunity to meet up with one of our graduates, Dr. Bill Dorfman ’83. In addition to his very successful cosmetic dentistry practice, he is involved in METal International, a membership group for dynamic entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The purpose of their Saturday gatherings is to network, not necessarily to help themselves with their businesses, but to connect each other to all the good things that they are doing in the community.

Today, we hear about so many negative things in the world, but it was heartening and impressive to listen to these leaders as they discussed all the different community activities they are involved with and to which they are giving their time, talent, and treasure.

Bill Dorfman himself is making a difference through a program he co-founded called LEAP (which stands for Leadership, Excellence and Accelerating Potential). It helps young people begin to prepare better for their future by teaching them goal-setting, mentorship, self-motivation, professionalism and effective communication skills. Often, these young people have limited exposure to role models. People who volunteer for the program help fill that void.

Once again, I am always proud to see what our people are doing out in the world. As dean, it is very fulfilling for me to visit with our wonderful graduates and hear their stories.

Every day, great examples of leadership are displayed around the clinics, classrooms and research labs at the Dugoni School of Dentistry. If you’re familiar with the heritage of the dental school, it should come as no surprise to hear that the people at Pacific continually show their passion for pav­ing the way.

Our commitment to excellence keeps our school in the vanguard, a term which describes people who are fore­most in a movement, field or cultural trend.

Leadership is one characteristic we especially foster, contributing to our success as an organization and keeping us on the forefront of oral health education around the world.

My new white paper focuses on the topic of leadership and outlines some of the many ways that our school’s people and programs have stayed on the cutting edge. It also highlights our plan for new facilities that will allow us to provide a distinctive and flexible home for students, patients, faculty, staff, alumni and others.

A leader must evolve, plan strategies for the future and make changes that set the pace for others. Our school’s move to new facilities in San Francisco is an opportunity for us to do just that.

The issue of access to dental care — or the lack thereof — is getting its fair share of attention in organized dentistry and throughout the communities.

The access-to-care issue (or “barriers to care” as some organizations refer to it) involves this question: how to best provide dental care to people with lesser economic means, those who live in remote rural areas, seniors, or other underserved or vulnerable Americans who may not be able to access traditional private dental practices or community health clinics?

Ongoing debates are happening in California and across the United States. This is a complex topic because it is a complex problem. States are trying different approaches and a “one-size-fits-all” model will most likely not prevail in the immediate future based on differences between states, not to mention the residents they serve.

I was recently asked by the California Dental Association to chair its Taskforce on Workforce. Several years ago, funding for the Taskforce was approved by the CDA House of Delegates. The Taskforce report has now been released, and I direct you to the CDA's website where CDA members may access the report. There is much in the report that should be digested by all members of our profession. The committee members plus staff worked on the project for many hours.

The process will continue to be long and surely will not be solved overnight. Dental professionals and leaders in organized dentistry are weighing in with their views. Any recommendations for change in our state will ultimately be reviewed and voted upon by the CDA House of Delegates.

The bottom line is that everyone involved in this issue should look at the evidence. Examine the research and findings of experts who are studying the issue. Whatever your personal position is on this complex issue, I invite you to be at the table. Stay up to date on the evidence. Learn a little more about different models of care. Get involved in CDA and other dental organizations. Discuss the issue with colleagues at local dental society meetings. The CDA has published a list of a series of town hall meetings. I encourage you to attend.

Leadership is one of the core values of the Dugoni School of Dentistry. One of the phrases we often hear around our school is that as a dentist, you are a leader simply by the nature of your role. You are a leader to your patients, family, friends, staff, and professional colleagues as well as in the community.

It is important for dentists to stay engaged with the complex issue of access to care.

A recent story in The New York Times, “State Lags in Dental Health Care for Children”, highlights the dire need for dental care for children in this state.

According to the article:

California children’s dental health was ranked third from the bottom in the National Survey of Children’s Health, above only Arizona and Texas. In the Bay Area, children and teenagers up to the age of 17 made nearly 1,980 visits to emergency rooms for preventable dental conditions in 2007. The cost of these visits averaged $172, but if a problem required hospitalization it cost an average of $5,000.

In 2007, the last year that data for many reports was available, more than 500,000 California children between the ages of 5 and 17 missed at least one day of school in a year because of dental problems, costing school districts $29.7 million dollars in lost revenue.

Even though these statistics sound dire, I do hope this press coverage will encourage families, members of the dental community, legislative representatives and others involved in healthcare issues to reinforce the need for our state to do a better job in providing early prevention and regular dental care for children, including those from the neediest families among us. As we hear with many other issues these days, the status quo is unacceptable.

The timing of this article relates to a recent event I attended to support dental care for children of underserved families. Our school’s Kids in the Klinic endowment helps thousands of needy children in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley each year obtain care at the dental school’s clinics. Some have complex medical dental problems. The goal is to establish a $2 million Kids in the Klinic Endowment to help provide ongoing funding to address the dental needs of our community’s children, from infants to teenagers.

I would like to thank everyone involved in the May 8 Vino de Mayo wine auction and fundraiser, an event I recently attended that raised more than $125,000 for Kids in the Klinic — the most ever raised at the event.

Another opportunity to show support for children’s dental care is by attending the Kids in the Klinic Golf Classic on June 29, 2010 at The Olympic Club. Participants will enjoy an 18-hole round of golf on the Ocean Course or the exclusive Lake Course, which has been ranked as one of the top courses in the United States and is the site of the 2012 U.S. Open. There also will be a silent and live auction, and dinner. Find out more and register >>

If you can’t make this event, feel free to visit www.kidsintheklinic.org to learn more about how to support the Kids in the Klinic Endowment. This endowment is just one small part of the solution to the crisis around children’s dental care in California. Every week we see grateful parents and children who are receiving much-needed care thanks to this funding, so we know it is making a difference in their lives.

Please click below to learn more about Kids in the Klinic and see how it is changing lives one smile at a time:

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