The arrival of fall always evokes memories of my time in university as a dental student. My thoughts were also brought back to dental school recently when I had the privilege to present awards at the CDA/DENTSPLY Student Clinician Research Program during the CDA convention in Halifax. Talking with some of the brightest young student researchers from our dental faculties reminded me of the importance of nurturing and encouraging the next generation of dental professionals in Canada.
CDA has a strong tradition of engaging students directly. This was certainly the case before the introduction of the new membership model in January of this year. However, under the new model, where CDA serves the provincial dental associations, who in turn serve individual dentists, a number of issues related to the delivery of information, products and services to dental students were recognized.
To address this challenge, CDA created a Student Strategy Working Group, with representation from dental students, recent graduates, provincial dental associations, the Association of Canadian Faculties of Dentistry and CDSPI. The working group conducted a survey of more than 1300 dental students and new graduates in 2010, to determine which types of programs, services and products they value and would like to receive from their professional organizations.
The responses made it clear that students value both their provincial and national dental associations. What also emerged from the survey was a desire to explore the creation of a national student association that, with the support of CDA, could provide communications between students at the 10 dental faculties, act as a link with organized dentistry, ensure representation for students at the national level and facilitate the organization of national dental student events.
The next step towards the creation of this association will be a formal meeting of student leaders from the 10 dental schools later this year, organized by CDA in partnership with CDSPI. We will look to achieve consensus on the most appropriate structure of a new national dental student organization along with how it would operate and relate to other components of organized dentistry.
Students are the future of the profession, so it is important that we engage them early in their dental careers. Just as students can benefit from a sense of camaraderie with their classmates during school, it is equally important that they be welcomed into the profession during and after formal education. Our profession has many services for new dentists, such as mentorship programs at the provincial level, that can help them feel a sense of community and be part of the profession.
Another way to achieve community is by having fellow dentists introduce new graduates to the local dental societies where they choose to practise. I was fortunate to be invited to these meetings by experienced colleagues after I graduated, which helped smooth my transition into general practice.
The profession should continue its efforts to nurture growth and involve young dentists. If students and new dentists become more aware of what associations can offer, the value of membership at the local, provincial and national levels during their practising years will be more apparent.
Robert MacGregor, BSc, DDS