Explore UAB

Students come to the UAB School of Dentistry for both the traditional classroom instruction and the valuable real-world experience obtained through clinic work.

But there is a third level of learning out there, found at various conferences, seminars and meetings throughout the country. This is where the classroom and the real world intersect, providing a chance to meet, mingle and stay up-to-date on all the latest developments in the world of dentistry.

UAB School of Dentistry D3 Class President Heath Padgett has taken advantage of several such opportunities during his first two years at UAB. This includes attending the annual ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day this past March in Washington, DC, which drew more than 400 dentists and dental students. Padgett says these types of events offer numerous benefits.

ADA Lobby DayHeath Padgett (3rd from left) at ADA Lobby Day“They bring in a lot of experts and teach things that we don’t learn in a classroom, where the focus is on the fundamentals,” Padgett says. “Some of the topics are about leadership principles, business management, and other practical things that are more career-driven than academic.

“These conferences also focus a lot on new ideas and techniques in the industry, things that are just emerging that they are announcing for the first time to the professional organization. It really is information that you don’t get in the classroom in this context. Sometimes there are faculty members in there learning right along with us.”

A Birmingham native who graduated from Samford University with a degree in biology, Padgett says conferences also provide excellent networking opportunities. Not only do students get a chance to meet their peers from throughout the country, they also can connect with working dentists who might be able to help the students embark on their own careers.

“One of the best parts about Lobby Day is it’s about a 50-50 mix of students and working dentists, and we went to all the same meetings together.” Padgett says. “So it provides excellent opportunities for networking and establishing mentors within the dental profession, since this event pairs dental students with dentists from their respective states. We were able to see dental issues firsthand and learn what actual dentists are thinking about.

“It was exciting to build those contacts. Now I’m able to reach out to some of the members about career advice. I’m thinking about doing different programs and things for the future, maybe even some shadowing.”

Padgett says another advantage of attending Lobby Day was the political information he was able to gather through the D.C. setting. Many of the topics had a legislative angle to them, and attendees met some of their political representatives.

“The first two days of the conference were centered on networking and learning more about our key legislative priorities,” Padgett says. “As a dental student, I have a keen interest in advocating for solutions that benefit the profession, in terms of increasing access to care, improving the patient experience, and advancing changes that improve outcomes for dentists and dental students.

“The most exciting part of the event was the last day, when we had meetings with various congressional offices, including both of Alabama’s Senators and four of our House members. It was such a great experience learning more about the democratic process and getting to speak about the profession we are so passionate about.”

There also is a classroom-type component to these conferences, with a wide variety of information being supplied to the attendees. Padgett says the Lobby Day event focused heavily on increasing access to care, reducing student debt burden, and reforming insurance issues.

“My key takeaways were that the ADA tries diligently to be an unbiased and non-partisan voice for dentists and dental students, while always putting the patient at the center of every advocacy effort,” Padgett says. “The resolution that received the most traction was the Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act, which was very positively received in many of our meetings and ended up passing a House vote. This resolution specifically advocates for better insurance coverage for those born with congenital abnormalities of the face and mouth.”

There are a number of these types of conferences and meetings held throughout the country every year that are open to dental students. They range from the Academy of General Dentistry to such specialty organizations as the American Association of Endodontists and the American Academy of Periodontology. In addition to Lobby Day, Padgett has attended gatherings in Chicago, Louisville and New Orleans.

“After a while you start to see some familiar faces and you build connections with other students,” Padgett says. “Even after the conference is over, we’re still able to learn from each other through those connections that we’ve made.

“The best way to get involved is to be a leader in a local ASDA chapter. We also do fundraising throughout the year that helps students attend these conferences free of cost. I encourage anyone to get involved. Because engaging in these types of outside things really gives a greater depth and breadth to your education.”