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Leadership for newbies: Becoming a trustee two years after dental school

Once I graduated from dental school, I began to seek out leadership opportunities in the real world. One of the first things I noticed was that the active leaders in my dental communities were most often middle-aged men.

Photo of Dr. Fairlee

Dr. Fairlee

As a young female dentist, I felt that there was a distinct lack of young/female/recent grad/private practice representation within dental leadership. My own philosophy is that it’s my obligation to be the leader I wish to see. The best way to encourage more young leaders was to become one myself.

Throughout my life, I’ve always been one of those people who steps into leadership roles. One of the few things I loved about dental school was how easy it was to find leadership opportunities. I became class president during my first year of dental school, became involved in the American Student Dental Association around the same time and went on to organize our pre-dental events, helped to plan volunteer dental clinics, did community outreach with children, and took part in multiple curriculum advisory boards. Any time a leadership opportunity arose, I was there to sign up.

Soon after graduation, I began attending my local dental society meetings every quarter. I made sure to sign up for their monthly newsletter so that I could attend any continuing education course or volunteer opportunity that I could. At those meetings, I was able to meet other local dentists and specialists in a laid-back format. What I ultimately learned is that the core of dental leadership is treating your dental colleagues as humans and not just other practitioners. You learn so much more about the problems within the dental community when you can have an easy conversation with other dentists.

From the time I joined the Oregon Dental Association as a student, I received paper and email newsletters. Shortly after I graduated dental school, I got an email from the ODA about their Leadership Academy program. A small group of dentists would be chosen to participate in ODA leadership opportunities, learn about the board structure, attend workshops to enhance leadership skills, and interact dental leaders around the state.

I was accepted into the first Leadership Academy class and started attending events in January 2018. As part of the Leadership Academy, I attended one of the ODA Board of Trustees meetings where they developed their strategic plan for the following year. I remember hearing the enthusiasm and passion the trustees had, not only for dental topics, but for the well-being of all fellow dentists. I left that meeting with the goal of becoming a trustee someday.

Fast forward to the ODA’s 2019 House of Delegates meeting where I actually ran for a trustee position. When I found out a trustee position was available, I was excited to apply. During the House of Delegates, I got the opportunity to attend the local dental society caucuses, meet dentists from all over the state of Oregon, and express why I think my viewpoint and experiences would help make the ODA’s Board of Trustees a more well-rounded one. To my surprise, after only practicing as a dentist for two years, I was elected as a trustee!

My advice for any new dentist looking to become more involved in dental leadership is to make your own path in the same way I did. Reach out to your local dental societies to see if you can get involved in any of their events; reach out to your state dental association to see what kind of leadership development opportunities they have, or reach out to the ADA and get involved in fun things like this New Dentist Now blog!

Leadership rarely falls into your lap. If you want to see a diverse group of leaders in your personal or professional community, sometimes you have to be the one to take the first step.

Dr. Amberena Fairlee is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Bend, Oregon and graduated from Oregon Health and Sciences School of Dentistry in 2017. Amber is an associate general dentist in Redmond, Oregon. When she’s not working or serving on the Oregon Dental Association’s Board of Trustees, she can be found drinking lattes, cuddling her husband, Nathan, and playing with her kids, Jasper and Fiona.

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