What is ASDA at the National level?

Before I attended the ASDA Annual Session, I didn't fully understand how our local chapter fit into the national level.  I also had no idea of what went on at these conferences.  To give you a little summary, each school fits into a district. There are 13 total districts that make up the national ASDA. Colorado is in District 9 along with other schools such as Oklahoma, Baylor, San Antonio, and Houston. During Annual Session, we were paired with District 8 where we discussed our opinions of presidential candidates, speaker of the house and trustee candidates, as well as our opinions on the current legislative issues affecting our profession. This year 650 students attended Annual Session, which meant that not every school had equal representation. Some schools such as UCLA sent over 30 students to the meeting, while other newer schools such LECOM had fewer people represent their school. This would only be a problem with voting, so to remedy this problem, only two delegates from each school are allowed to vote. The reason why voting is so important is because these delegates represent our opinion as a school for legislative issues. It is these delegates who are actually voting for change and supporting our rights in the dental profession. I got to witness firsthand the strength and ability of an organization to make such a change for our future. At annual session, there were several issues that were a very popular topic of debate. These included the subjects of student debt and live patients for boards, the former being biggest issue by far. The average dental student graduates with $241,000 in debt, which is a 66% increase in the past decade. This is such a concern because new graduates are more likely  to take a job because of the salary, and are not necessarily focused on getting job that provides the best patient care. ASDA wants Congress to pass measures that include expanding tax deductibility on debt, reducing the overall student loan interest rate, improving access to public service loan forgiveness programs, giving scholarships to dental students, and prohibiting the compounding interest during loan repayment. ASDA has such a powerful voice because legislation is more likely to be passed if they can see a strong representation of students who are all seeking change on the same common issues.

The other topic of discussion was the issue of using live patients for licensure board exams. Currently, in order to obtain a dental license, a dental student must have their degree, pass a written set of exams, and also pass the clinical set of boards that requires the use of live patients. There are a few ethical issues that arise from the clinical exam, the first being continuity of care. Patients presenting for the Boards are often receiving only one part of an extensive treatment plan that is not being addressed, and to students it seems ethically wrong to treat a patient with such a narrow focus. Additionally, if the patient does not show up for the exam, the student could fail and would have to pay an expensive fee to retake it. To address these issues, ASDA has proposed a few alternatives.  Firstly, we could eliminate the clinical exam altogether, allowing students to obtain a license by graduating from an accredited dental school. The next would be a portfolio-type clinical exam in which students would compile a record of each case completed during their fourth year, after which an examiner would review the portfolio and give a license if deemed appropriate. A third option would be to have an ethical case-based exam such as the OSCE which is currently used in Minnesota and Canada.  Finally, the licensure process could require the completion of a one year postgraduate residency program, a system already established in NY, WA, MN, CA, and CN.

Attending annual session was such a rewarding experience and it was empowering to see these issues brought to the stage. I was able to discuss the pros and cons to each issue and have a much better grasp about the issues of our profession. Upon reflection of my experience at Annual Session, I realized that national ASDA is not only representing the voices of dental students, but they are actively fighting issues that directly will directly affect our lives in the next 2 years.