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The Catalyst

Dental student strives to impact change, advocacy

By Cindy Abole
Public Relations

Third-year dental student Jessica Baron has always been one who is passionate about making a difference.

ADEA’s Yvonne Knight, second from left, joins dental students Alison Foster, from left, Jessica Baron and Katie Daniel following her Sept. 25 presentation at the dental school. photo by Cindy Abole Public Relations

The Charleston native has a commitment to getting involved, understanding the processes in legislation and influencing public policy while advocating for dental students and practitioners. Baron is an example of a student advocate and leader in the dental education community who can talk the talk and walk the walk.

Baron got her opportunity during the summer of 2012 after finishing her first year at MUSC’s James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine. She was selected to work as a summer legislative intern with the Advocacy and Governmental Relations division of the American Dental Education Association Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

For six weeks, Baron gained valuable experience visiting Capitol Hill to attend hearings, press conferences and debates relating to dental reform legislation and access to oral health care to conducting research on policy issues for fluoridation and corporate dentistry.

At the end of her first year in dental school, Baron wanted to diversify her dental science studies and sought out ways where she could merge her passion for politics with dentistry. She had heard about the impact of student advocacy with ADEA, American Student Dental Association, and other organizations. She contacted former ADEA public policy and advocacy head Jack Bresch and quickly realized that she wanted to work with the ADEA to understand public policy and their platforms relating to dental health issues, research and other current challenges.

“This experience was perfect for me because it combined my passion for politics and public policy and helping people on a grass-roots level. In order for practitioners to practice dentistry on the highest standards, there has to be good policies in place that also protect the patient. It’s one of my passions to increase care and increase it well,” Baron said.

During that summer, Baron got the opportunity to cover specific ADEA issues from following Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s investigation of large corporate dental practices that engage in overtreatment of patients to reviewing access to dental care issues, student loan relief, research funding and rural dentistry.

During Congress’ vote to pass the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012, Baron took part in a memo-writing campaign to Congress discouraging any further cuts to NIH and NIDCR research funding.

Baron’s advocacy work and experience was so meaningful that she invited ADEA mentor Yvonne Knight, J.D., to visit and speak to fellow dental students and faculty Sept. 25. Knight is the senior vice president for Advocacy and Government Relations of the ADEA Center for Public Policy and Advocacy.

In Knight’s midday presentation, she defined advocacy and its importance to students in impacting dental education and how it can affect other issues relating to dentistry and the profession. She also spoke about the need to educate others on the dental perspective and shared tools and resources to help student advocates find a role to support dental education and best practices in the delivery of oral health care.

“Through advocacy you can have an impact on dental education,” Knight told the audience. “Unless you make your point of view or position heard, you are not participating in the process. Students need to weigh in on the issues. To use a Washington expression, ‘If you’re not at the table, you are on the menu.’”

Knight challenged students to become agents of change within dental education and in the profession. She urged students and dental faculty to speak out on issues, communicate with members of Congress and State Legislature through mail campaigns and use of social media. She also invited students to attend Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill or participate in statewide efforts with Dental Lobby Day, both usually held in April.

“Now more than ever, the stakes are higher as there are constraints on the federal budget with cutbacks and a need to account for every dollar. It’s important that people interface with policy makers at these levels so that they realize that people really do care andcan benefit from these programs,” Knight said.

For Baron, her interests in engagement, public policy and processes blossomed as an undergraduate student of public policy at Duke University. She fondly remembered one class assignment where students were tasked to pick a failed piece of legislation and reorganize, restrategize and reintroduce it to Congress to pass for voting.

“We have to assume a responsibility in educating our legislators,” Baron said. In South Carolina, dental students work closely with dental faculty and the S.C. Dental Association in participating in Dental Lobby Day at the S.C. State House. “I see myself as an oral health ambassador and it’s my goal to educate and impress the importance of good practices for the profession. Without sound politics, you cannot have successful dentistry.”

Baron Attends Pankey Institute

Jessica Baron, a third-year dental student in the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine, was recently named a Pankey Scholar, which allowed her to attend its annual meeting, Sept. 19 through 22 in Orlando. While there, she learned about comprehensive dentistry to maximize patient oral health. The Pankey Institute is a nonprofit educational organization that is dedicated to assisting dental professionals continues in mastering technical skills and behavioral skills through dental education programs. More than 21,000 dentists and dental laboratory technicians and specialists have attended its courses.

October 9, 2013

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