Perspective from the Top

Steve Neidlinger, CAE

About a year and a half ago, at the AGD meeting in New Orleans, I was having a lovely conversation with a longtime AGD/PAGD member, one whose sacrifice of time and effort has helped to build PAGD to what it is now. He casually mentioned that PAGD would never truly be successful as long as we had nothing but old white men on the board. I hear this echoed among my association colleagues, who lament that their boards look eerily similar to the audience at a Neil Diamond concert, and it holds the association back from its full potential.

What does diversity mean to you as it relates to our board leadership? Perhaps it means that a group of people needs a makeup of different races. Perhaps it means the group has gender equality. Maybe it means that the demographic makeup of the smaller group is representative of the makeup of its membership.

“…the board must have a broad variety of viewpoints and backgrounds so that the decisions made by that board take into consideration the diversity of PAGD’s membership.”

To me, it is a matter of perspective. In order for the PAGD to operate at its most effective and efficient level, its board must have varying perspectives around the table. That goes beyond race or gender, which can lead to the trap of tokenism. It means that the board must have a broad variety of viewpoints and backgrounds so that the decisions made by that board take into consideration the diversity of PAGD’s membership.

Dentistry is becoming an increasingly diverse profession. Picture the prototypical dental office. Twenty-five years ago, it was likely a man with his practice on the corner of Main Street. He bought his practice right out of school, or started from scratch, and has been there ever since. Perhaps he was accepting PPO at the start and transitioned over time to FFS. It is highly likely that he was the only dentist in the building and knew everyone in the town by their first name. He built a great business this way.

That picture has changed. Younger PAGD members could be one of ten dentists in the building at the same time. They work in volume. They learn and evolve quickly, with technology continually changing the way they practice. They will not likely be working at the same place three years from now, with someone else filling their position. The odds are that they are not a white man. The patients often don’t know their name and sometimes that doesn’t bother anybody.

This is why I am fortunate to work for the board of PAGD. Getting back to my original conversation with that founding PAGD member, I was able to retort that there are fifteen PAGD board members. Out of those fifteen, eight are women. Seven are under the age of 45. One board member helps to lead a residency and is keenly aware of the potential and limitations of new graduates. One has a successful FFS practice in rural Pennsylvania. Another practices public health under a SEPTA station in Philadelphia. Some call their own shots, some work for someone else. And three times a year, this group gets together and shapes the strategic direction of PAGD. The perspectives created around this table add tremendous value to PAGD.

The evolution of dentistry is not to be feared. Just because it’s different than what you may be used to doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. All it means is that it’s different: There are advantages, there are disadvantages. We need to concentrate on shaping a system that best serves our patients’ health and values now, which may not be what they were ten or twenty years ago. The elected leadership of PAGD is ideally formed to address this changing world.