Bulletin of Dental Education

Why Dental Student Advocacy Is Important for the Profession

(Access, Curriculum, Leadership, Oral health, Policy, Students) Permanent link   All Posts

By becoming involved in policy advocacy, dental students play an integral role in securing results that directly affect our lives as not only students but as future community leaders, practicing dentists, and dental educators. Students can advocate year-round at the federal and state levels to ensure dentistry receives federal and state funding for student aid, dental research, education and training programs, and access to dental care.

Dental Student Successes in Advocacy

Why is advocacy important to dental education? Because the actions that Congress and the administration take have lasting ramifications for education and the practice of dentistry. Recently, for example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services adopted a new regulation that drastically cut Medicare Graduate Medical Education funding for residents in dental schools and clinics. Without the advocacy of ADEA, the American Dental Association, and dental specialty groups, the outcome certainly would have been much worse for dental residents and training programs.

Advocacy has a direct impact on the financial lives of students. Dental students working with ADEA and others convinced Congress in 1998 to restore the $2,500 deduction for interest that borrowers pay on student loans and to increase the level of income that qualifies a taxpayer for the deduction. Also, dental students have played a role in getting scholarships administered by the National Health Service Corps and U.S. Armed Forces exempted from taxation. An area that ADEA continues to focus on is exempting all federal loan repayment programs from taxation.

Dental students were key players in compelling the U.S. Department of Education to extend additional borrowing for health professions students in the unsubsidized Stafford Loan program. Prior to 1999 only students attending a limited number of health professions schools were eligible for higher loan limits. Although we have staved off past congressional attempts to increase interest rates on consolidation loans, we must remain vigilant. The Higher Education Act is being reauthorized, and Congress will refocus on this legislation in the coming months.

In addition, dental students have helped ensure that Congress continues to fund Title VII health professions training programs. These programs provide scholarships for disadvantaged students, low-cost student loans, and loan repayment for young faculty with student loan debt. Again, dental students need to be actively involved in advocating for this legislation, which is due to be reauthorized in the next session of Congress.

Students participating in the 2004 National Dental Student Lobby Day also urged Congress to increase funding for the NIDCR to advance its research agenda in salivary diagnostics and to involve private practices in its new initiative, Private Practice-Based Research Networks. Although Congress has yet to complete its work on the fiscal year 2005  budget, our advocacy efforts continue.

Advocacy Issues for 2005

Current advocacy priorities for ADEA and the Council of Students include the reauthorizations outlined above and funding to educate and train dental students and residents. ADEA is working to secure grants eligibility for dental schools to expand their curriculum and develop dental research infrastructure; provide student participation in clerkships in general, pediatric, and community dentistry; and enhance dental faculty teaching and leadership. ADEA is also seeking predoctoral training grants that will provide stipends for students to spend time in primary care settings.

Funding for NIDCR is another ADEA priority. The NIDCR is the leader in advancing salivary diagnostics, which is full of exciting possibilities. Imagine a day when our patients come to us for a six-month recall visit and we take a sample of saliva to analyze for protein markers that change with disease state. We have all been taught that we do not treat teeth; we treat the whole patient who is attached to those teeth. With salivary diagnostics we could help assess our patients’ overall health with a simple, non-invasive procedure. Other research programs such as gene transfer and practice-based research networks are funded through the NIDCR, as are dental student research training programs.

Finally, the Higher Education Act needs to be reauthorized. ADEA, ADA, the American Student Dental Association, and dental student advocates are working to ensure that any modifications that are adopted do not harm dental students and residents.

How Students Can Make a Difference

Your first step in getting involved should be to become an active member of the ADEA Council of Students. Two leadership positions are dedicated to advocacy: the Center Group Leader for the Center for Public Policy and Advocacy, held this year by Dan Brown (University of the Pacific), and the Legislative Liaison, held by Arica Abrames (University of Colorado). The Center Group Leader is responsible for presenting at council interim and national meetings on legislative issues and working with the Legislative Liaison on advocacy issues. The Legislative Liaison works with student leaders from ASDA and the American Association of Dental Research to plan National Dental Student Lobby Day and educates the council on the issues.

To be an effective student advocate, you need to be informed on the issues. Subscribe to the ADEA Washington Update and the ADEA State Issues Update (by contacting Gina Luke at Luke@ADEA.org), and review federal legislation using the Library of Congress website (thomas.loc.gov/). When writing to elected officials, always personalize your letters and emails, and explain why an issue is important to their districts, states, and constituents. Visit your elected officials when they are in their home districts.

I also urge you to participate in the 2005 National Dental Student Lobby Day, an annual event hosted by the ADEA Council of Students, ASDA, and the AADR National Student Research Group. At the 2004 event (which received support from ADEA, ASDA, ADA, AADR, American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, Key Bank/Key Education Resources, and Practiceworks/Trophy, a Kodak Company), more than 175 dental students received advocacy training and made visits on Capitol Hill to advocate for dental education and the profession of dentistry. Soon the dates for 2005 will be announced, and we hope to have an even larger group for that event! Interested students may send their name, school, and mail and email addresses to Arica Abrames at Arica.Heisel@UCHSC.edu.

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