This past November, CU dental students took a step back from their busy classroom and clinic schedules to travel to the windy city for the American Student Dental Association’s National Leadership Conference. For some, it meant returning to the conference as invited guest speakers, while for others, it was a first look at the scope of involvement they could have as part of their ASDA chapter and at the national level. For all, it was an eye-opening and invaluable experience shared with peers and recognized leaders in the dental field.
The major takeaway that was received by many students was just how customizable the definition for leadership can be. Though all attendees were united in their choice of career, the variety of backgrounds and experiences was evident when students and presenters spoke to one another during breakout sessions that occurred throughout the course of the weekend. Each event on all students’ schedules was self-selected to reflect which aspects of leadership they wanted to explore while in Chicago. Every session was grouped into one of the following categories: Leadership Fundamentals, Advocacy, ASDA Chapter Management, Personal Development and Wellness, and Career Planning. This ‘choose your own destiny’ approach to the conference allowed for a diverse collection of experiences that each student left with at the end of the weekend.
The conference provided multiple opportunities for students to practice networking as well as tips for strengthening skills needed to expand their social capital. The weekend demonstrated the importance of team building and unity amongst coworkers and colleagues for future dental professionals. Alfred Li, president of his first year class at University of Colorado School of Dentistry, shared his thoughts after hearing one of our own CU faculty members speak. “I appreciated Dr. Brad Guyton’s approach on how to lead a team, build a productive work culture, and to solve team dysfunction. He emphasized that successful leaders exhibit emotional intelligence and set clear expectations for their practice to which all team members are held accountable.”
Colorado ASDA was proud to hear three current University of Colorado dental students, Austin Tyler, Lynn Doan, and Lissette Ruiz-Ibarra, as well as two alumni, Dr. Kyle Larson and Dr. Christian Piers, present as guest speakers throughout the weekend. Austin, current ASDA chapter president for the University of Colorado and District 9 member of the Board of Trustees, reflected on his opportunity to share his words with the 700+ dental students and professionals in attendance. “This was the first time I was asked to be a presenter at NLC. It was very rewarding being able to share my passion about topics like licensure reform and balance in dental school with colleagues from all over the country.” It was evident to CU students in attendance that their involvement in ASDA had an important role in national ASDA and that their voices had real potential to make an impact.
Other students took the opportunity for personal development and reflection throughout the weekend. Natalie Newton, second year student at University of Colorado, allowed herself to dream even bigger after hearing some of her favorite speakers present. She says, “My favorite things to read are books that talk about leadership, the way we think/psychology, or how I can better my life. So having the opportunity to listen to condensed versions of the big hits of major books or points was better for my learning style and like a rapid fire of learning. I could meditate all weekend about my life, make goals, and be visionary about my future…I saw that the visions I’ve been having are totally possible and shouldn’t be traded for something that I feel uneasy about.”
Choosing to embark on a trip in the middle of a semester wasn’t an easy task for all of the students in attendance, but something that the group felt was well worthwhile. When reflecting as a group after the conference, CU students agreed that dental school comes with a unique set of stressors that can make it easy to forget the bigger picture, the reason that each of us are spending endless hours over textbooks and patient notes. While feelings of burnout are normal and to be expected from time to time, CU students combatted this with intentional time spent bettering themselves, their ASDA chapter, and their ASDA district when they chose to attend the National Leadership Conference. Keith Rockwood, third year student, realized this when he shared, “NLC reenergized me when it comes to the grind of dental school! Hearing from all of the phenomenal speakers reminded me that dental school is something we ‘get’ to do, rather than something we ‘have’ to do.” Students left the conference with renewed inspiration and determination to continue working towards their dental dreams.
As demonstrated by fellow dental students across the nation, classmates, and the wisdom of keynote speakers, there is no ceiling for leadership development. Dentistry needs leaders – for continued developments of national policies that protect dentists, collaboration between professionals across the medical and dental fields, and effective practice models in the private settings. While the traditional definition of leadership may suggest that it is a quality that comes more naturally to some than others, it can be developed in every person if they make the effort to fine-tune their skills. Leadership is something that can be realized in each and every one of us, and can take an endless number of forms.
The 2018 NLC conference served as an excellent way for CU students to become improved members of the dental profession while giving them opportunities to challenge themselves and their colleagues to grow. The conference is sure to continue to allow for first year and fourth year students alike to grow as people and future leaders in their dental class, state and national levels of ASDA, and the dental profession as a whole.
About the author:
Sierra Rose is currently a first year dental student at CU School of Dental Medicine from Marco Island, Florida. She is also 2LT in the United States Air Force and is excited to enter service as a military dentist after graduation. In her spare time, Sierra enjoys playing the guitar, yoga, and getting lost in the Rocky Mountains.