TIPS FROM THE PROS: How to Navigate Dental Action Day
Let’s face it: going to a meeting with your local lawmaker in Olympia can seem like a daunting
experience. You’re on their turf, talking their language.
You probably think you have to be knowledgeable about all things political in order to have an impact, but you’d be wrong. Sure, it helps to know the issues facing your legislators, but trust us, they’ll tell you about what they’re up against. And listening’s the key, says Dr. Mary Smith, WSDA past president and longtime DAD attendee. “Let the legislator do the talking. Too often the novice attendee tries to go in and spurt out all their issues, “ she says. “You’re trying to build a relationship. It’s more important to listen to what their issues are first. They will always ask you what your issues are before you leave.”
Don’t forget, as a dentist you have expertise that a legislator lacks. Dr. Theresa Cheng says, “Because of DAD I have a greater understanding of the legislative impact on my job. Back in the day, I was hesitant to go because Jeff Parrish was a knowledgeable person from the area who attended, so I didn’t think I would add anything. What I learned was that the legislators are laypeople with no expertise in dentistry, and they’re looking for people they can contact when they have a question, and I could contribute in that way. My experience, my perspective, my work life were a relevant and important part of the conversation.”
Socialize, have fun!
Kathie Wang, a third-year student at the UWSoD, explains that talking to the legislators can even be a secondary part of the experience. “As a student, it can be intimidating to stand in front of a state lawmaker and speak on behalf of our profession. Even if you don’t get a chance to voice your opinion to a legislator, Dental Action Day is a fantastic opportunity to learn about dentistry outside of school,” she says. “Take the time to talk with dentists throughout the day to gain their perspective on critical issues and how (the issues) will affect all of us as future dentists. It’s up to us to protect and advance our field once we graduate, and it starts with taking the first step to educate ourselves.”
Pair up with a pro
For a better experience, make sure you go with someone who has been to DAD more than once, advises WSDA vice president Dr. BJ Larson, adding, “Go with an open mind. You might be a little apprehensive, but listen and learn It is way more fun that you would imagine, and it’s a cool way to connect with your politicians. It’s a great social day with your peers. Connect with someone in your community and ride share to Olympia. That can be a lot of fun, too.”
Larson also recommends that when you get back to your practice (or the UW), you renew that connection by sending a thank you note along with your business card. It cannot be stated enough: A simple gesture like a handwritten thank you can be the start of a long and fruitful relationship with your local legislator. “You would be surprised what an impact that alone makes,” says Smith. “No one writes anymore, so it is remembered.” He also suggests learning the names of the staff members for your local legislators, saying, “I would recommend that people introduce themselves to the Olympia staff. You’ll want to give them a card as well. That staff doesn’t always stay with the same legislator, but if you build a network of staff members, it can be amazing. It sounds corny, but people remember you when you remember them. Thank the staff members who help you and make the effort to remember them, and you’ll have an advantage.”
Making contact outside of session
Legislators care about what their constituents have to say. That’s where you come in – invite your lawmaker to stop by your office or attend one of their events in district. Outside of session and when they’re back home, lawmakers will have a lot more time to get to know you and issues affecting oral health care in Washington.