Dr. Ryan Braden is a general dentist in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. In 2015, at age 37—and only 10 years after graduating from Marquette University School of Dentistry, Dr. Braden became president of the Wisconsin Dental Association, its youngest to take on the position.
Dr. Braden spoke with New Dentist Now on how he first became involved in organized dentistry and why new dentists shouldn’t be discouraged by their age or lack of experience when it comes to taking on leadership roles in their profession.
New Dentist Now: At age 37, what does it mean to you to be known as the youngest president of the Wisconsin Dental Association?
Dr. Braden: It’s kind of cool to be called the youngest president to say I’ve had the opportunity to step into this position so early in my career. So many of the presidents that I’ve worked with and known over the years have been in my father’s generation which is more typical, 50s and 60s. I’ll be out of the door well before I’m 40. It’s a unique opportunity but it wouldn’t have happened without the support of those past presidents. I wouldn’t say it’s not meaningless but it’s not what it’s all about.
New Dentist Now: When and how did you first become involved in organized dentistry?
Dr. Braden: My first true introduction to organized dentistry was my senior year in college at University of Wisconsin Madison. My dad is a dentist and he encouraged me to join him at the state’s legislative day at the capital. When I got into dental school, I took a strong interest on ASDA. I served in the WDA board as a student. It’s a great program to have students involved in committees and boards so they have a very strong commitment to organized dentistry.
I joined right away after graduation. My wife is a dentist as well. My wife, my dad and I went to my first component visit as a new grad. My dad said, “Don’t worry, we’ll give you a year at least to get your feet wet.” Forty-five minutes later another dentist nominated me for vice president for the Burlington Dental Society and my dad seconded the nomination. They pulled me in right away and I’ve never really been able to say no to these opportunities and I don’t have regrets either.
New Dentist Now: As a new dentist, did you feel welcomed by leaders in your profession?
Dr. Braden: I was vice president for one year, which was my only local position I ever served on. The second year, our regional trustee chose to run for vice president of the WDA. If he was elected, they needed someone to fill his trustee position. They asked me to do it even though I was only one year out of dental school. From a leadership perspective, they saw some qualities in me but I think they also wanted to get the perspective of a new grad. I think they wanted to hear what the next generation’s perspective on things. And I was always happy to be involved. I was never discouraged to speak and I was expected to be an active member. No one said I was too young.
New Dentist Now: How did your decision to run for president come about? Why was it important for you run? What was it that made you say to yourself that you were ready to take on this role?
Dr. Braden: There were a lot of factors. That was never on my bucket list but I also never really ruled it out. I also had a lot of encouragement from past presidents telling me I should run for president. There’s also a lot conversations with my family because it’s a tremendous time commitment. I have three kids and a business. My wife and dad have to cover for my absence when I’m serving my association. One of the positives of the timing was that I was so involved so early, that my oldest child is 7 right now. By the time I’m done, she’ll be about 9. And I’m not missing some of the really involved activities when they get into their pre-teen and teenage years, all those big events in their life. They miss me at dinner now and then. It worked out in a timing perspective. If I didn’t do it now, I probably wouldn’t have done it for another 20 years.
New Dentist Now: Were you at all discouraged by anyone to run because of your age or experience?
Dr. Braden: Absolutely not. It was the contrary. Everyone was encouraging and excited about my decision to run. The only comments I heard relative to my age were indirectly from local leaders who I knew who had conversations with other dentists from other states. I was 35, 36 at the time and they questioned whether I was ready. They responded, “Obviously you haven’t met him.”
New Dentist Now: In summary, what are the challenges facing the Wisconsin Dental Association and organized dentistry, in general? Are there challenges specific to new dentists in your state that you see?
Dr. Braden: Like everyone, growing membership is a big challenge. We’re doing some reorganization and restructuring to make membership our number one priority. We have to find a way to engage the new grads. That’s one thing I hope I can do is engage and relate to the new grads and make them understand that this is relevant to you now and into the future. If you don’t get active and involved early on and your association continues to degrade, you might not have an association to join 10 years from now and it’s too late.
We’re changing a lot of our communication method. We have an app that’s launching within a week. It’s how the millennial generation gets their information. But at the same time we’re not abandoning our core members who have been involved for 30 years. We have to bridge that gap and create ways that can be mentorship opportunities and social activities. Another is the growth of the DSO model. How do we create value for those who aren’t in a traditional private practice because they’re all dentists and we need to welcome all dentists?