Everyone Matters: Seeking leadership diversity in organized dentistry

It has been a long but fulfilling 10 years of hard work in organized dentistry – or “dental-land,” as I like to affectionally call it.

Dr. Patel

I often talk about losing my community of colleagues and friends once dental school graduation happened, and how my work in the associations has brought me a new community. They are the support system I didn’t realize I needed, the mentors who have worked through countless personal and professional situations with me, and the friends who still stand by me, no matter what.

I am lucky.

My most favorite person, the one who I have always looked up to first (and the most), also happens to be my boss, my father. Through his eyes, with his wisdom, we have treated generations of patients in our hometown, Westchester County. It has, and continues to be, the best journey I have ever taken.

But what of the students, residents, and new dentists, who are our successors? I decided long ago that I was going to work hard to pay these blessings forward however I could. For me, its been my work with the new graduates, the members of the dental education community, and those trying to find their way, that has been the most rewarding.

Women, ethnic minorities, and new dentists (the American Dental Association defines new dentists as anyone who graduated less than 10 years ago from dental school), are flooding into the workforce in ever increasing numbers.

The American Student Dental Association, our counterparts in the dental education system, is full of driven, motivated, bright individuals, who lead their organization with conviction and fairness, and truly represent a diverse and inclusive body, reflective of its members.

What about us? The ADA and its tripartite – the state dental associations, and our local component dental societies, are made up of volunteer dentists who move through the ranks of leadership in various pathways to councils and committees. As the landscape of dentistry changes, are we, too, striving to be diverse and inclusive? Some would say yes.

The ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership teaches valuable leadership skills to a small group each year, culminating in a project that puts these skills to use. I am part of this year’s class. Collaborating with the others in my group, learning and growing, and hearing their insights, have been amongst the most invaluable takeaways for me. It also opened my eyes to the incredible discrimination that we, as younger members of our profession face.

Our House of Delegates is the voting body of our association and is 483 members strong. New dentists make up about 30% of active ADA membership but only occupy 5% of the delegate positions nationally. Yes, some states strive to work at filling the pipeline to leadership with a diverse range of doctors. Many of the most qualified amongst us are former ASDA leaders. However, there is a marked drop-off of former ASDA leaders staying involved in organized dentistry in similar capacities to what they were in dental school.

Why is this?

I can speak from my experience. I have been told I was too young. I have been told I was too inexperienced. I have also been told that new dentists will never be allowed in positions of leadership simply based on age.

For some, this may have put up an unsurmountable barrier. For me, it fueled my desire to fight back against these conscious (and unconscious) biases by working hard and providing real results in the work of the association.

To that end, the New York State Dental Association, my home state organization, passed a resolution in 2019 marking out a new dentist position on every state council. This is in alignment with the council system at the ADA. It was a hard-fought victory, and even on the floor of our House of Delegates, the same concerns were brought up.

After hours of emotionally draining testimony, a colleague of mine stood at the “pro” mic and simply said the following, which brought it home for all of us. Her words were “We are all dentists, aren’t we? We have the same degree. We are all humans.” As she stepped of the floor, there was a stunned silence in her wake. Her words rang true.

There is still much work to be done, together.  The statistics support this. Our leadership is not reflective of the changing landscape of dentistry, and if we are to secure the future of our profession, this must change. Change is hard, and change takes time. But I believe in us. And I believe that we can do better. Because, everyone matters.

Dr. Amrita R. Patel grew up in Chappaqua, New York, and graduated from the New York University College of Dentistry in 2011 before completing a general practice residency at the Nassau University Medical Center. Dr. Patel is a general dentist in private practice with her father, Dr. Rohit Z. Patel, in Westchester County, New York. She chaired the New York State Dental Association New Dentist Committee, is the International College of Dentists – USA Section Fellow Ambassador of Social Media, and currently serves the new dentists on the American Dental Association Council on Dental Benefit Plans for the 2020-21 term. She is also among the recipients of the 2021 ADA 10 Under 10 Awards.

17 comments

  • Steve Geiermann DDS

    Well said! Squeaky wheels get the grease!

  • Pingback: Seeking leadership diversity in organized dentistry – New Dentist Blog - Health Reporter

  • Sasha J Minor DMD

    Dr. Patel, thank you for your Leadership, Service, and Volunteerism. Your blog really resonates with me… You are a true Humanitarian!
    I wholeheartedly agree with your testimony and, like you and many of our colleagues, have donned many of the hats you mentioned…
    I piloted the first University of Florida Pre-Dental ASDA prior to my enrollment and acceptance into the University of Florida College of Dentistry, and continued to serve as the UFCD ASDA Class President and Cabinet while achieving my DMD degree prior to graduating in 2007. Since Graduation, I have continued to participate in organized dentistry through local dental affiliate organizations as well as on the state level with the Florida Dental Association. I currently serve on the Florida Dental Convention CCE committee alongside so many amazing colleagues, new and established.
    I see your vision and I believe in this profession too. Again, Dr. Amrita Patel, thank you for you passion and drive and devotion to Dentistry. I want to share with you the words that a very wise woman (who happens to be my Mother) said to me…..”If it was easy, everyone would be doing it”. So keep going! We need You!

    Sasha J. Minor, DMD

    • It is leaders like you that help secure the future of our wonderful profession. Thank you for your kind words!

  • Brett Kessler

    Great Blog, Dr. Patel. You are a courageous leader. Your actions have challenged the status quo and enriched the lives of those without a voice. You have also enlightened the leaders who see the value of diversity in membership as well as leadership. We have much work ahead of us to create a truly inclusive organization on all levels of the tripartite. I appreciate your efforts and join with you to ensure that the the ADA represents the voices of all dentists and the communities we serve.

  • Thanks for your words— appreciate your advocacy ..
    Our state ( Washington) brought a resolution forward I wrote several years ago.. every 3 years we have a slot for an ADA delegate who has never been a delegate (. They must have at least 1 year experience as an alternate delegate first)

    This has brought in new people and diversity across our ADA.

    Thanks again for being a GREAT voice for organized dentistry! We must continue to have our dentists realize the importance of supporting their profession by being an ADA member

    • I love that! Thank you, Dr. Edgar, and the Washington State Dental Association, for recognizing the importance of working together and giving new voices a chance!

  • Linda Himmelberger

    Great blog. Stay strong! Stay involved! Your message is powerful.

  • Dear Amrita,
    Excellent, passionate post. I am very proud of you for speaking up.

    Leadership positions should be earned through service and rightly claimed, as you have. Any systemic barriers should be exposed and shattered. The vast majority of ADA members would support such shattering of barriers.

    Dr. Chad Gehani as President of the ADA or myself of the Missouri Dental Association may be “first”s in over 150 years….but most certainly will not be lasts.

    Young leaders like you portend a bright future for the ADA and the profession.

    • We are so lucky to have leaders like you and Dr Gehani who have walked this path before us and paved the way for us to follow in your footsteps. Thank you for your kind words!

  • Great blog on Seeking leadership diversity. Thank you for sharing such an insightful blog.

  • Well said. I totally agree with the facts.

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