January 14, 2014
It’s a new year, and the legislative session is revving up. I am excited about this year’s Dental Action Day! University of Washington Dean, Dr. Joel Berg, has let the students off for the day and is encouraging them to attend. WSDA’s Government Affairs Coordinator, Michael Walsh, tells me we have close to two hundred students signed up!
Dr. Berg should be commended for foresightedness and wanting the very best for his students. This generation, with its massive student debt, must be ever vigilant in watching trends in our profession that will affect their ability to pay that debt, pay for a practice and provide a decent living, all while providing proper stewardship for the patients we serve. That is a big burden to bear.
Most of our legislators and our fellow citizens do not realize the financial profile of dentistry is changing. Being any kind of doctor is not quite as lucrative as in the past. Most people only know what they see — the obvious signs of wealth doctors have had in the past, and not the years of hard work it takes to get it. For some reason it is okay for a Kardashian to display wealth but, good heavens, not a doctor. This generation must relay these changes to our legislators. They need to see the financial reality we face. Our students must get their story out.
Giving students insight, knowledge and skills in how to negotiate with legislators will serve them the rest of their lives. It will serve them universally with issues outside of dentistry, too. Take a look at Dr. Michael Spector’s advocacy concerning Israel. He is an amazing humanitarian who actively uses his skills every day both for dentistry and his own life. He is just one of many dentists who set a strong example for advocacy.
I think one of the worst, yet best, movies about politics was “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” Jimmy Stewart plays a good, albeit naive, gentleman who’s steadfast heart and down home values turn Washington around. That is what I thought of when I was driving down to Olympia on my first legislative day. I was going to tell those legislators my truth, and if it raised a little hell, well…all to the good. So I did! Luckily it was with a legislator who agreed with me. It could have all gone horribly wrong, and that would have been my last stand. WSDA worked with my naivety and zeal. I learned negotiation takes patience and skills. I still think that right is still ultimately might, but I now know that there are more tools than just hammers. There are times to negotiate softly and times to wage war. I know the value of a team. That many voices preaching the same message works. Paying for lobbyists to sort out the back-story and lay of the land is money well invested.
Most dental legislative issues are worked out early by WSDA leaders, lobbyists and staff, and never go to committee. You never hear about those. Legislators and their staff have learned to call us first. I have never seen us caught unaware. We have always advocated for our patients and our compassion and stewardship shows.
Currently, WSDA leadership feels we have earned a solid reputation in Olympia. That is a huge deal. Contentious issues like midlevel providers force our legislators to have to sort out whether dentists are protecting their patients or their pocket book. If we are not believed, we burn what our lobbyists call “legislative capitol.” Keeping our reputation stellar has been difficult. Other organizations continue to lobby against some of our issues. The contentious issues take the attention away from other equally-important issues your board works on all year. We have used all the tools in our legislative toolbox not just the hammers. We have fought on all levels to make our core values clear, and we will continue to do so this year. I am proud of our record, and look forward to future battles.
Remember how people know what they see? Seeing your face along with the two hundred dental students accomplishes many things. It gives us a platform to let the world know we are strong, organized, and capable of great things. It shows the legislators that we are all in basic agreement about dental issues and passionate enough to get up and do something about it. It allows us to tell our story and get our side of an issue completely laid out. It develops a relationship with the legislator which can help them turn to us first and not less informed entities. Perhaps most importantly, it shows our students, our developing peer dentists, how we write our own future.