By Courtney Killough, D.D.S. Class of 2017
On August 21st, Alyssa Gutierrez and I traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 24th Annual Hispanic Dental Association Conference at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Leaving with nervous excitement and open minds, our goal was to learn as much about the organization, its mission and the process of founding a Hispanic Student Dental Association Chapter at VCU.
The first day began bright and early with personal introductions and a leadership training workshop. Our table included students from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas and California – all of whom were incredibly welcoming and willing to help us navigate the conference. During the workshop, we were introduced to the Lominger Competencies: 67 critical aspects of leadership that successful leaders demonstrate through their behaviors. They include qualities like approachability, compassion, timely decision making, delegation, managing diversity, ethics and values, learning on the fly, motivating others, perseverance, self-knowledge and work/life balance. Through small group discussions, we were able to closely examine a few of them and discuss ways that we, as leaders within our schools and communities, could modify our behaviors to better exhibit each characteristic.
We attended many other conference sessions throughout the weekend, but a few in particular were both informative and engaging. The “Panel on Professional Options” delivered an insightful look at post-doc life. We heard from dentists in private practices, group practices, specialties, public health clinics and academics. One main point echoed throughout the discussion: Dentistry will only feel like a job if you are not passionate about what you are doing or if you lose the sense of privilege associated with the amazing opportunity we are afforded to improve our patients’ lives and our communities. We also had a chance to hear from the HDA President, Dr. Tyrone Rodriguez. His raw honesty and sense of humor captivated us as he delivered a montage of the 10 characteristics of happy and successful dentists. To wrap up the conference, Alyssa and I sat in on the HSDA Chapter Officers Meeting. We took away many great ideas from our contemporaries and established contacts with national HDA representatives that will serve as great resources for us as we move forward with this process.
Truth be told, I was a bit unsure of how my presence at the HDA Conference would be taken. I speak Spanish and have the dark hair, dark eyes and olive complexion common to the ethnicity, but I am not Hispanic. Then, add in the fact that Alyssa Gutierrez, a proud cubana, was representing our school with me. How would I fit into this seemingly exclusive organization? Well, fortunately my fears were entirely unfounded. The conference was filled with dentists and dental students from all different backgrounds: Indians, Asians, African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics. The force uniting all of us was much bigger than our ethnic backgrounds, skin colors or first languages. We all connected with the four key cornerstones of the HDA, “S.E.A.L.:” service, education, advocacy and leadership. And, although I came into the weekend feeling like a bit of an outsider, I left feeling like I had found a new home, a new familia within dentistry.
If you are passionate about service, education, advocacy and leadership, then we hope you will consider joining us in our mission to found a Hispanic Student Dental Association Chapter at the VCU School of Dentistry!