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Advocacy: A Primer for Aspiring Student Leaders

(Advocacy, Involvement, Leadership, Oral Health, Students) Permanent link   All Posts

By Deborah Darcy, Director, Congressional Affairs, ADEA Center for Public Policy and Advocacy (ADEA CPPA)

Opportunities for student leadership are not restricted to the dental school campus or local community. Students looking for ways to make an impact on public policy don’t have to wait until after graduation. Advocacy begins with a desire to help others through activities that can influence public policy and be accomplished on the local, state, and national levels of government.

When state and federal policy makers consider enacting legislation on a particular issue, they frequently look to leaders who are expert on the subject. As “the Voice of Dental Education,” ADEA understands that part of the education process is providing dental and allied dental students, residents, and fellows with opportunities to learn how to be effective leaders. Past experience has shown that student leaders become the leaders of tomorrow, representing their professions and the patients they serve. They are trailblazers in proposing future health professions policies. As such, they need to be knowledgeable about public policy and involved in grassroots advocacy.

Student leaders can range from beginners to experienced advocates. For those new to the experience, advocacy is any organized activity that purports to influence public policy. It can include communications to elected officials, such as meetings, letters, emails, tweets, or Facebook messages. Advocacy can also be activities that raise public awareness with regard to issues; hence, it can include ads in newspapers, emails to association members, or political ads on television. Finally, grassroots advocacy includes citizens coming together and advocating as a group by means of letter-writing campaigns, rallies, and visits to legislators. The strength in grassroots advocacy comes from the passion, persistence, and number of people involved.

All advocacy efforts need leaders. Every profession must have chief contacts that establish relationships with elected officials and other policy makers on the local, state, and federal levels. When dental and allied dental students graduate, many of them will be the point people who connect regularly with decision makers at various levels of government.

Oral health issues are impacted at every level of government. Town and city councils can make regulations for those who live within the municipalities. (For instance, the Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance that required dentists practicing in Philadelphia to provide information sheets to their patients regarding dental amalgam.) Decisions made on a state level include Medicaid reimbursement rates, Medicaid-covered adult dental benefits, scope of practice, licensure, and insurance, among others.

Dr. Frank A. Catalanotto testifies before a Congressional subcommittee, October 2009The federal government has jurisdiction on issues such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, labor, small business, and taxation. It also plays an important role in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Additionally, the federal government provides funding for education of health professionals through Title VII Health Professions Programs of the Public Health Service Act and funding for student loans through Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

Student leaders are needed to provide guidance for each jurisdiction. As such, there are many ways that dental and allied dental students can hold leadership roles at any level of government that best suits their specific interests.

There are a myriad of opportunities within ADEA to learn leadership skills and advocate for students, dental education programs, and the professions. The largest and most widespread ADEA-sponsored advocacy event for students is National Dental Student Lobby Day [LINK to past summary article]. ADEA partners with the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) to sponsor this two-day policy workshop. Lobby Day offers an opportunity for students to learn about two issues facing their professions or the patients they serve. During the workshop, students learn how to explain legislation and effectively relate why the legislation would improve public policy. It is also the first time that many students interact with federal lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill.

Students can also apply for the ADEA/Sunstar Americas, Inc. Student Legislative Internship. The internship is an opportunity for dental and allied dental students to gain experience in public policy formulation and advocacy on behalf of academic dentistry. The internship is funded by Sunstar Americas, Inc., a longtime ADEA Corporate Member. The award provides the recipient with lodging, transportation, and a stipend for living expenses for six to eight weeks in Washington, DC, working in the ADEA Center for Public Policy and Advocacy (ADEA CPPA).

Students may choose to serve on the ADEA Council of Students, Residents, and Fellows (ADEA COSRF). The council serves as the national voice of students in the dental education and addresses issues that affect dental education.

ADEA is proud to offer these leadership opportunities for students. All dental health professionals will be affected by decisions made by legislators. The ability to be conversant in the issues and to know how to be politically active will serve dental and allied students, residents, and fellows well as they enter their professions and become tomorrow’s leaders.

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