Bracken Killpack: Building a Stronger WSDA

"We must provide specific, differentiated value for all dentists regardless of how they practice – with benefits aligned to the north star of our mission."
Bracken Killpack

Bracken Killpack
WSDA Executive Director

Publisher’s note: This column is based on Bracken Killpack’s remarks to the 2022 House of Delegates. To see his full speech, go to  

After two tumultuous years, the “state of WSDA” in the short term is good – we are making progress on our strategic priorities. But simply looking at the immediate future doesn’t serve our association or our members well.  

Instead, we must focus on the longer term and take a broader view of the future.   

First, we must look at our overall membership. Dentists are not retaining membership in organized dentistry at the same rate as previous generations. ADA and WSDA have a greater market share among Baby Boomers, the age group that will be shrinking in the coming years, than we have with Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z dentists. What’s more, demographic segments that are proportionally larger in younger generations of dentists – women, people of color, non-practice-owners – all join at lower rates than our overall market share.  

Though WSDA is faring better in membership than the ADA at this point, we cannot stand pat and let this shift overwhelm us. 

Younger dentists, just like younger consumers more broadly, place greater emphasis on values, which are increasingly a deal-maker or deal-breaker. There are many ways for people to make connections, many ways to gain knowledge, and many other worthy causes asking for financial support – so we need to demonstrate that organized dentistry aligns closely with the values of current and prospective members. 

What is most valuable to a current or prospective member changes over the course of a career and across practice modalities. A younger practice owner’s needs are very different from an employee dentist nearing retirement. We must provide specific, differentiated value for all dentists regardless of how they practice – with benefits aligned to the north star of our mission.  

This work will require rethinking our core structure and what it means to be a member of WSDA. Since our organization’s inception, membership has been transacted on an individual basis. This model has worked well for decades because most dentists, and therefore most of our members, were sole practitioners. As the variety of practice modalities continues to expand beyond sole proprietorship, we must re-examine the exclusive use of individual memberships.  

The WSDA Board has begun preliminary conversations about creating two distinct WSDA membership types – one for individuals and another for dental practices. Reorganizing our dues structure would allow WSDA to articulate a value proposition that transcends practice modality. All dentists, regardless of how or where they practice, value core services like high quality continuing education; networking opportunities and a sense of community; wellness services; and advocacy to protect the doctor-patient relationship.  

We also have been discussing what new benefits would provide additional value for all members, create memberships that feel more tailored to each dentist’s needs, and present a compelling incentive for practice owners to opt into an office-wide membership. 

Another barrier in delivering value to our members is that too much of what we currently offer is time- and place-specific. Unfortunately, programs we’ve invested time, money, and effort in creating may be missed by many who would find them valuable simply because the time or location doesn’t fit their schedules.  

We can remove that barrier by making high quality content available asynchronously. We already enjoy asynchronous value in other areas. For instance, we record and stream video programming to enjoy what we want, when we want, and where we want. Similarly, we believe that new ways to acquire, manage and organize WSDA content will help increase member value.  

Examining our dues structure, the benefits we provide, and how we provide them is a process that can and should be proactive and positive, rather than reactive and negative. Our goal is to bring a proposal to the 2023 House of Delegates. 

Finally, we should consider how we welcome and engage current and potential members. 

In August, my family and I took a short trip to Alderbrook, on Hood Canal. It’s a Pacific Northwest treasure, especially for families with young kids. During our trip, we embarked on a short boat trip in a very small boat with a very low-powered electric motor. It was absolutely perfect for my risk-averse 4-year-old and my thrill-seeking 1-year-old! 

Piloting that small boat in calm, open water without any other boats nearby provided an opportunity for relaxation and bonding with my kids. It also spurred a conversation with my oldest about how the wakes of other boats, even those far away and that we might not see, could impact our little boat. 

What does my family’s Hood Canal boating adventure have to do with WSDA’s future?   

Over the last year, I have been reflecting on the impact that my privilege and influence have on those I touch in my professional and personal lives. Actions I take and statements I make, no matter how deliberate or well intentioned, cause reactions in the environment around me. Sadly, those reactions might not always be the ones I would want to see. 

I have come to appreciate more completely that as the privilege and influence of an individual increases, the impact of their actions become both more far-reaching and less obvious to the person taking the action. 

The power of the motor and the manner in which the boat is driven are similar to an individual’s influence and privilege. Someone with a speed boat can generate a large wake, which can have significant impacts far beyond one’s immediate surroundings. On the other end of the spectrum, those with smaller craft, such as kayaks or paddleboards, make virtually no wake, but are greatly susceptible to the wakes of other vessels. 

Perhaps one’s wake would have a more limited impact on others if everyone on the water had the same type of boat and could handle the same amount of waves. It’s a very different story with a speed boat in a body of water full of paddleboarders.  

ADA’s research shows that when dentists feel like their personal and professional identities are not represented in, or supported by, organized dentistry, they often internalize that the tripartite is not for them. They feel like their boat should not be out on open water. 

A sense of inclusion amongst members is a vital value to sustaining and growing any organization. However, this value cannot simply be a proclamation that “all are welcome.” To be meaningful, a commitment to inclusion must create a safe environment in which everyone feels comfortable sharing their authentic self within the community.  

Too many existing and potential members still feel like they do not belong in our organizations. If they look at the leaders or the attendees at a meeting and perceive that no one else is walking in similar shoes, they may conclude that they are not welcome. Other times, their feelings are the result of comments or actions from individuals with influence in the organization.  

Unfortunately, I’ve heard and read too many stories about people “in the room” making comments about another’s physical attributes, gender, family decisions, race, ethnicity, or practice modality. These comments have had detrimental impacts. Just like the captain of the boat whose wakes can disrupt another boat, the person making the comment may be completely unaware or not fully appreciate the consequences of their action. 

Thankfully, I’ve also read and heard many counter examples of others going out of their way to make the same individuals feel like they are an integral part of the community. Such actions exemplify the work we can all do to help everyone feel valued. 

Our goal isn’t to force a diversity quota on WSDA leadership or activities, or to make those who are white, male, older, or sole proprietors become – or feel they are becoming – irrelevant. Instead, inclusion is about making the panoply of professional identities and lived experiences represented by practicing dentists in our state feel valued, respected, and seen in an authentic way.  

We want everyone out on the water, feeling comfortable and empowered, no matter their vessel. 

Now is the time for bold actions to secure our continued success. I believe in the power of associations to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts; I especially believe in the power of this membership and this association. 

Members can access reports, resolutions and other House of Delegates information at

This editorial originally appeared in WSDA News, 2022 Issue 4.

The views expressed in all WSDA publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the official positions or policies of the WSDA.