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Conference offers program for new dentists

Oct. 1, 2010
It occurred to me sometime during Dr. Cliff Ruddle's lecture: This is probably one of the best dental meetings around!

by Chris Salierno, DDS

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: social media, New Dentist Conference, networking, leadership, Dr. Chris Salierno.

It occurred to me sometime during Dr. Cliff Ruddle's lecture: This is probably one of the best dental meetings around!

In another room down the hall, Dr. Gordon Christensen was lecturing on whatever the audience requested. It was a tough choice between these two pillars of dentistry, but my endodontic skills were in need of some inspiration, and Dr. Ruddle did not disappoint.

I was in San Diego attending one of the most unique conventions in the dental world: The American Dental Association's New Dentist Conference. Now in its 24th year, the conference has rapidly grown in popularity.

"We're very pleased to have set a new record for registration at 408 attendees," said Karen Burgess, the ADA's director of Membership, Marketing, and the Committee on the New Dentist. "Evidently, the combination of stellar speakers, more CE, and a full day of leadership programming – as well as a fantastic location – accomplished the committee's goal of attracting new dentists to the conference."

A "new dentist" is defined by the ADA as anyone who has been out of dental school for less than 10 years. The ADA has recognized that the needs of dentists during that first decade are quite different than those of their more established peers.

Perennial hot topics include practice management and transitions of ownership. School may be out, but there's still a lot of homework to do to learn how to start or buy a practice and run a small business.

There is also the necessary orientation into organized dentistry. The ADA has made it a priority to educate its new members about how to shape the policies and laws that govern the profession. Every year, ADA officers and board members attend the New Dentist Conference to meet the young members of their districts.

There is even time allotted for them to field questions from attendees in a candid "Q and A" session. Is there another conference around that gives dentists that kind of access?

Dr. Raymond Cohlmia of Oklahoma City has been attending this conference for the past 20 years. The prospect of interacting with the ADA officers and trustees is one of the reasons it is "one of the top conventions on my never miss it list," he says.

At other ADA meetings, the officers and trustees have such a busy agenda that it may preclude this kind of informal gathering. Dr. Cohlmia continues, "It is the only convention or meeting where you have an opportunity to visit with all the board members in a stress-free environment."

Leadership skills

The first day of this meeting was devoted to developing individual leadership skills. Not only do the needs of young dentists continue to evolve at a rapid pace, but the ways in which they communicate with their peers and the public are drastically changing. Social media, of course, has become the topic du jour. A session on "Using Social Media Effectively" drew a large audience, and by all accounts got people's creative juices flowing. It's interesting to note that some of the other lectures, such as "Top 10 Tips for Running an Effective Meeting" and "Millennial Leadership" also flirted with social media as a resource. Any conclusions?

"Social media in some form is here to stay, and as business owners we would be remiss to ignore it," said Dr. Joshua Austin of San Antonio, Texas. "It needs to be part of dental practice marketing, especially for younger practices and practitioners."

Learning from each other

During lunch one day, I had the pleasure of sitting with three general dentists who had graduated together from the University of Minnesota a few years ago. They had grown apart since moving to different states, but quickly picked up their friendships where they left off. Listening to their individual journeys after dental school, they traded advice on breaking into our profession.

This is one of the conference's greatest gifts for a dentist just starting out in practice: the ability to share successes and failures with comrades from around the country.

"I've attended nearly every New Dentist Conference since 2001 when I graduated from dental school," said Dr. Robert Leland from Hanover, Mass. "I've found the conference to be valuable not only for affordable and quality continuing education geared to new practitioners, but also as a way to meet other new dentists from all over."

New dentists network day and night at the conference, swapping stories about associateships and loans, new offices, and patient management. Somehow it's easier to be candid with a stranger who practices across the country than a friend who practices nearby.

So what's planned for next year's 25th annual meeting in Chicago? Expect another full day of leadership training, which was a smash hit this year. Practice management and clinical continuing education will be provided by Drs. Joseph Massad, William Carpenter, Harold Crossley, David Ahearn, and Mark Murphy, to name a few. But perhaps most important of all, there will be networking. As the conference continues to set attendance records, you can bet that old friends will meet, new friendships will be forged, and the community of new dentists will grow stronger.

Chris Salierno, DDS, is actively involved in organized dentistry. He lectures to dental students and dentists nationally about practice management and leadership development. He also speaks for dental companies on implants, occlusion, and cosmetic dentistry. Reach him at [email protected].

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