Would dentists talk like this?

Oct. 1, 2002
Imagine this. A group of 35 to 40 dentists gather in response to a request from the leadership of their state dental association. The association wants to discuss pending legislation that would affect dental practices all over the state.

Guest Commentary

Imagine this. A group of 35 to 40 dentists gather in response to a request from the leadership of their state dental association. The association wants to discuss pending legislation that would affect dental practices all over the state. In order to achieve the year's legislative goals, the dentists are also asked to suggest ways of increasing membership in the association. In addition to a greater number of dentists supporting the association's goals, more members equate to more revenue for the association. The additional revenue can be used to fund activities that promote legislation which, if passed, will increase access to care for the dental public.

The conversation regarding membership recruitment and participation could flow like the following paragraphs.

Dr. Apple: "I agree that the association could use more members. Currently, our member base is only a third of practicing dentists in the state. But some of my friends and colleagues who aren't members say they just don't understand why they should spend $200-plus a year for membership when they don't see any benefit to joining. After all, $200 a year is a lot of money for nothing."

Dr. Bur concurs, "Yeah, my friends are all parents with busy lives. They are all over-committed to family obligations. They aren't going to give the association their hard-earned money when they have no intention of ever being active or attending meetings. They just don't understand why association membership is necessary or important."

Dr. Clean points out, "You know, I would participate more if the political issues weren't so confrontational. I just hate confrontation, and I would be really scared about going to the capital to speak to legislators about this stuff.

"Let those people who don't mind confrontation do it."

Dr. Apple adds, "I am a member, but I don't read the stuff the association sends me. It's always too much information to read, so I usually just throw it in the trash. The only reason I came tonight is that the notice was brief and to the point."

Dr. Clean identifies with this assessment: "I'm a member, too, but I don't come to meetings because I live 40 miles away. I can't get here by 6 p.m. when the meeting starts. It seems like if the association wanted us there, they would make it more convenient for us who live out-of-town."

Dr. Doe says, "I've also heard from other dentists that they don't attend the state meeting because it seems like the same old speakers are always there. There isn't anything new or different being offered. It's too bad that the association depends so much on revenue from this meeting to fund annual projects."

Can you imagine this scenario? Is this scenario believable? Is it likely that a group of dentists would publicly offer the above reasons for not being a member of the American Dental Association, or actively participating in association-sponsored events?

To make the scenario more believable, change the identity of the group to 35 to 40 hygienists. The scenario becomes a little more real. In fact, these comments were made by several dental hygienists at a meeting. By changing the group identity to that of dentists, the comments seem petty, almost silly in retrospect.

All of the above comments offer reasons for not being a member of American Dental Hygienists' Association. Dental hygienists who are not members can list reasons a mile long. Dental hygienists who are members don't have the ability to answer each objection to membership. The objections are as numerous and varied as the dental hygienists who hold them.

Member dental hygienists may even have some difficulty in expressing why they choose to be members. Many of those who are members rarely attend meetings and can't explain the current legislative goals of their state association in any given year. But they continue to send in their dues, year after year. Why?

On some level, even if it isn't articulated, these dental hygienists know that — by supporting the association — they are supporting the protection of their profession. They know that membership is a professional obligation. They know that the only reason the professional association exists is to ensure protection of the profession. They know that if ADHA fails to exist, there will be no one watching out for them. They know that if no one is watching, there may not be a profession. I assert that this is why 85 percent of the licensed dentists in Oklahoma are members of ADA. It's just what professionals do.

There will always be reasons for not being a member of ADHA. We can all think of one or two or 20 reasons why we can't pay our dues. But, you know what? There aren't really any valid reasons for not being a member of ADHA, if you are practicing dental hygiene. In Oklahoma, annual dues to ADHA are $210 which amounts to about a day's salary. ADHA has convenient payment plans so that amount can be paid over a period of months.

In all fairness to those who participated at the meeting referred to above, more than $1,200 was collected in donations that night. The donations help defray the costs of promoting legislation designed to protect the profession and to increase the dental hygienist's role in the provision of care for the underserved public. There were many comments made in support of membership, and some excellent suggestions for ways to increase membership and member participation.

We mailed more than 200 notices of this meeting; 35 to 40 hygienists were there. Where were the rest of you?

Chris Matthies, RDH, is the president of the Tulsa County Dental Hygienists' Association. She can be contacted at [email protected]