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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.

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.