Advocates in Action
Skyler Lagcher knows that part of her experience in ECU’s School of Dental Medicine is building an awareness of issues that could impact their future careers—and their future patients. That’s why she and several other SoDM students took on active roles in state and national advocacy efforts and events during the fall ’18 semester.
Through conferences and activities giving them access to viewpoints from dentists, lawmakers, policymakers and other future dentists, the students learned about issues—from the opioid crisis to licensure reform—that will affect the way they approach dental practice in the coming years.
“Your duties don’t stop at the dental chair,” said Lagcher, a second-year SoDM student from Pinetown. “A lot of dental professionals focus on the clinical and professional side, which is important, but we also have an obligation as future professionals to advocate in our field. It’s a long-term commitment.”
Lagcher, along with fellow SoDM students Brittanie Height, Shailja Amin and Bryan Yang traveled in mid-October to Washington, D.C., to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) Mid-Atlantic Advocacy Academy Conference, where they engaged in a day of workshops on the advocacy basics and learned ASDA’s stance on a variety of issues, including the opioid crisis, mid-level providers and dental licensure reform. Upon their return, the students held a lunch-and-learn session called “Advocake”—complete with an ASDA cake—to discuss advocacy with SoDM D1-D4 cohorts.
“For me, this conference was crucial to being informed about the issues that are affecting our patients and profession; understanding ASDA’s stance on them and figuring out how I can impact change in these areas,” said Height, a first-year student from Charlotte. “For all of the issues addressed, I was able to glean new or fresh insight. I was also able to meet and speak with more experienced advocates in our profession, hear about their passion projects and their stance on the issues.”
Among the issues covered at the conference and discussed with other advocates, bridging barriers to care became one issue that Height has decided to champion.
“Addressing barriers to care is something that I am personally passionate about and understand first-hand,” she said. “It’s important that we as practitioners never lose sight of the things that may prevent our patients from receiving the care they need. It is integral that we think critically about the role we play in those barriers and take action to remove as many of them as possible.”
Advocacy is also breaking barriers for the students as they learn to think beyond the basics.
“Before coming to dental school, I knew that I wanted to be involved in impacting positive change in the lives of our patients and our profession,” Height said. “I know from experience that some things can be impacted by the provider alone, but there are other things that must be changed systemically to truly move forward.”
Dr. Maggie Wilson, SoDM vice dean and associate dean for student affairs, said advocacy experiences are important for students because such opportunities prepare them to be voices for communities of need—to speak for the most vulnerable and advocate on their behalf.
“A key facet of our mission is to educate leaders—who are also dentists,” Wilson said. “Having the opportunity to attend professional meetings and interact with their peers across the nation is an important component of their leadership development and provides students a forum for exchanging ideas and coming together as a collective voice. That experience maximizes their leadership potential and advocacy impact.”
Although her efforts in advocacy are based in a desire to serve her patients to the best of her ability, Lagcher also came to the ECU School of Dental Medicine with a plan to push herself beyond the standard requirements of her education. The advocacy events helped her learn more about herself by challenging her existing beliefs about her abilities and parameters.
“It was intimidating at first,” she said. “I was stepping outside my comfort zone, but I realized there were so many opportunities for education outside the classroom. I also wanted to find a way to challenge my own leadership capabilities, so I stepped up in the advocacy realm.”
Lagcher said that advocacy has helped her learn to balance a variety of educational facets, not just focusing on her classroom studies. The opportunity to represent the SoDM on a state and national stage was an honor, she added.
“You always want to represent the school well,” she said. “You want to put a good face on an up-and-coming dental school. For the school to have faith in you to send you out to these events is great. If you want to be involved, they will help you do it.”
By Spaine Stephens