On April 14, eleven CDMA students hopped off the plane at DCA armed with suits, fact sheets, and a desire to make our marks on the dental profession. After the success we had in getting bills passed at State Lobby Day in February, we couldn’t wait to take on a bigger challenge. In Washington, three key issues were on our agenda: lessening student debt, monopolization by insurance companies, and the battle to make insurance companies recognize procedures related to cleft palate as functionally-necessary rather than cosmetic.
The hotel buzzed with dental students from 66 schools and seasoned dentists who make the trip to National Lobby Day year after year. On Monday, members of the American Dental Association’s advocacy team briefed us on the most influential methods to make legislators hear our message. We were also privileged to hear from the five dentist members of Congress – including one from Arizona, Rep. Paul Gosar – who divulged to us how vital our presence was in gaining sponsorship on the bills and ultimately getting them passed.
On Tuesday, as ready as we were to discuss our legislature with members of Congress, we were certainly not prepared for D.C. traffic. With meetings starting at 9 a.m., the whirlwind of students and dentists in the lobby was a comedic display of the generation gap; us “millennials” were frantically refreshing Uber and Lyft apps while elderly dentists stood outside trying to hail cabs. We soon found ourselves running in heels from our drop-off location to the chambers. There is a reason it is called Capitol HILL, and it was no easy task.
While I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting (marble busts of past legislators or giant French doors or floor-to-ceiling windows maybe?), the halls of the House and Senate buildings seemed underwhelming in a humble, welcoming way. A jack hammer being taken to the ground served as a friendly reminder that even members of the highest elected offices are not immune to the perils of construction. Unfortunately, the timing of our visit did not line up with Congress’ time in session, so we instead met with their staffers – mostly college graduates in their early 20s. It was important that we got through to them, because they’d convey to their bosses the issues about which they felt the strongest. Luckily (and unluckily), many of them had one substantial issue in common with us dental students: the burden of student debt. While the two other issues were more up the alley of actual dentists, students took the reins on explaining the proposals to lessen interest rates and increase deferment options. The looks on staffers’ faces when they learned the cost of dental school were priceless; I think it’s safe to say we made an impression.
I don’t think we could have asked for a more enjoyable or enlightening experience. We were so fortunate to have had the company of outstanding Arizona dentists who continue to mentor us, and we are excited to continue learning from them about the intricacies of both our career and politics. Witnessing the enormity of the process to change or make laws only reinforced to us just how important it is for us to stay involved in organized dentistry to protect our profession and peers.
-Siri Vasireddy ’22