National Leadership Conference (Chicago, Illinois)


This November, ASDA members from around the country came together to America’s windiest of cities to share and learn about the latest and greatest ideas surrounding the future of the dental profession. Columbia ASDA was fortunate enough to witness these ideas being delivered firsthand by some of the most amazing and thought-provoking speakers from dentistry and beyond.

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To kick off the second annual National Leadership Conference, Luke Williams, a professor at NYU Stern School of Business, inspired over 400 prospective dentists to go beyond thinking outside of the box and instead find ways to disrupt the status quo. Much like any industry, dentistry is subject to unforeseeable change and in order to flourish in our field, we must familiarize ourselves with the unfamiliar and challenge the perspectives we are taught to adopt. Our profession is rich in well-defined and clearly outlined models for growth, but Williams argues that these conditions are perfect for disruptive thinking. In the same way that Steve Jobs shook a world complacent with having Blackberry “smartphones” as the epitome of success less than seven years ago, dentists must be able to predict what the future holds. This reasoning may be especially true for the dental student, who spends a minimum of four years training towards a trade that, down the road, may be indistinguishable from its present incarnation. The keynote speech set the tone for the weekend by encouraging attendees to think differently about the conventional wisdom behind organized dentistry, advocacy, ASDA chapter management, and laying the groundwork for our careers.

The keynote speaker for the Saturday, November 16 session was Dr. Michael Meru, ASDA president from 2008-09. He recently graduated from Southern California School of Dentistry and fittingly gave a thought-provoking speech about life after dental school. Dr. Meru shared his experiences moving from dental school into an orthodontics residency and eventually into private practice. We found it very surprising that besides working as an orthodontist, he is also able to pursue interests as a semi-professional snowboarder, real estate agent, and marketing expert for his father’s business. It was great to see that while dentistry has always been his career focus, it has not limited his other passions. Dr. Meru’s breakout talk was inspiring and encouraged everyone to pursue other endeavors alongside dentistry.

Throughout the conference, multiple “breakout sessions” were featured from four different tracks: 1. ASDA and organized dentistry, 2. Career planning and business leadership, 3. Advocacy, politics, and professional issues, and 4. Chapter leadership and management. Dr. Meru also hosted of two of the breakout session talks. In the first, titled “What Would You Do? Ethics in Dental School”, he took his personal ethics-related dilemmas and asked us to discuss how we would handle those situations. We found it very effective to be involved in his presentation involving issues we will almost certainly see in our own futures. Dr. Meru’s second presentation, titled “Marketing Your Practice on a Budget”, discussed how to be savvy with spending what little advertising budget you have. He stressed the importance of “establishing a unique brand” and using the internet to your advantage, including advertising via Google. We also learned that to maximize patients discovering your practice, it is important to have a positive image on nearly all forms of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram.

Other breakout session talks were on how to run an ideal chapter, how to mobilize volunteers, how to minimize debt in dental school, and how to determine which licensure exam (NERB, WREB, etc) you should take. There were also opportunities to earn Academy of General Dentistry CE credits by attending these breakout sessions.

Finally, the vendor exhibit was a good opportunity to meet different dental vendors, get contact information to set up future lunch and learns, and learn about the products they offer. It also allowed extra time for networking, which supplemented breaks in between sessions that were instrumental in Columbia ASDA’s ability to speak with our District 2 colleagues and other students.

Overall, the NLC in Chicago was an unforgettable experience Columbia ASDA is looking forward to next year!