A new article published in the December issue of the Journal of Dental Education (JDE), a scholarly publication from the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), examines a replicable program model for student involvement in oral health care advocacy in order to offer best practices for future implementation at other institutions. “Oral Health Policy Forum: Developing Dental Student Knowledge and Skills for Health Policy Advocacy,” authored by Karen M. Yoder, Ph.D., M.S.D., and Burton L. Edelstein, D.D.S., M.P.H., describes the planning, sequential improvements, and outcomes of Indiana University School of Dentistry’s (IUSD) Annual Oral Health Policy Forum, a one-day program introducing students to the health policy process.
“It’s inspiring and also great fun to see it happen.”
“Current public policy measures play a critical role in the quality of the oral care and dental education we provide throughout the country,” says Dr. Edelstein, Senior Fellow in Public Policy and President Emeritus of the Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP), and Professor of Clinical Dentistry and Clinical Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. “The health policy forum helps students gain a broader view of the influence they can have in dentistry throughout their careers.”
Instituted in 2005 in conjunction with the Indiana Dental Association and CDHP, IUSD’s one-day forum invites fourth-year dental students to prepare and present arguments on oral health policy scenarios before a legislator. In the afternoon, students tour the Indiana State House, observe deliberations, and meet with lawmakers. As reported in the JDE, nearly half of participating students expressed an increased interest in becoming involved with the political process as a result of the forum.
“Developing advocacy skills helps dental students understand that they are treated as experts by legislators; they have social capital that can help those who don’t,” says Dr. Yoder, Director of Civic Engagement and Health Policy and Professor of Preventive and Community Dentistry at IUSD. She also points out that the forum directly complements and enhances the dynamic work many dental students carry out in community clinics. “The forum helps students see that they can turn their activism into social change through well-crafted health policy advocacy.”
Among other data, the case study provides best practices for program implementation. The article notes the effectiveness of universities cooperating with dental associations to plan a forum that will foster a well-rounded future workforce. Additionally, engaging university faculty and administrators and providing incentives for student participants drove greater attendance.
“This report offers detailed, practical guidelines that other institutions can use to launch similar programs for their dental students,” adds Dr. Edelstein. “The health policy forum is one of the most unique opportunities for career and personal development universities can implement.”
According to annual surveys administered after IUSD’s forum, positive feedback from dental student participants grew substantially from 2005 to 2009 as the program incorporated more opportunities for interactivity with legislators and guest speakers.
“Some of the dental students discover they have tremendous skill when they argue their point to influence a legislator,” says Dr. Yoder. “It’s inspiring and also great fun to see it happen.”
About the American Dental Education Association
The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) is the voice of dental education. Its members include all U.S. and Canadian dental schools and many allied and advanced dental education programs, corporations, faculty, and students. The mission of ADEA is to lead individuals and institutions of the dental education community to address contemporary issues influencing education, research, and the delivery of oral health care for the health of the public. ADEA’s activities encompass a wide range of research, advocacy, faculty development, meetings, and communications like the esteemed Journal of Dental Education, as well as the dental school admissions services AADSAS, PASS, and CAAPID.