Propelling membership to leadership: an interview in honor of Women’s History Month

Photo of Cathy Hung, D.D.S.

Blogger Cathy Hung, D.D.S., is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon practicing in New Jersey. She is an alumna of the ADA Institute for Diversity in Leadership and a wellness ambassador with the ADA Wellness Ambassador Program, which is supported by the ADA Dental Team Wellness Advisory Committee of the ADA Council on Dental Practice. Dr. Hung currently serves as the vice president of the Mercer Dental Society and a New Jersey Dental Association alternate trustee. She is a speaker, writer and life coach on diversity, equity and inclusion and female leadership.

In this post, Cathy Hung, D.D.S., interviews Renee Arace, D.M.D., in honor of Women’s History Month.

Dr. Arace is the current president-elect of the New Jersey Dental Association. She is an owner of a successful general and cosmetic dental practice in West Orange and formally Verona, New Jersey. Dr. Arace is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University College of Dental Medicine and a fellow of the American College of Dentists. She has been involved in organized dentistry and has held numerous leadership positions over the span of more than 30 years.

Photo of Renee Arace, D.M.D.

Dr. Arace

Dr. Arace was the recipient of the ADA Certificate of Recognition of Recruitment and Retention Program in 1992-93 and the recipient of the ADA Golden Apple Award for Dental Meeting Excellence Members in 1994.

Dr. Arace enjoys boating and lakefront living at her Lake Hopatcong home and beachfront fun at her Marco Island home with her husband.

First positive experience as a new dentist member sets the tone to leadership

Q: Dr. Arace, you are the current president-elect of the New Jersey Dental Association. Would you talk about how you got involved in organized dentistry?

A: I had a long journey over 33 years. I have always felt drawn to become involved and engaged in organized dentistry. Ever since my dental school years, I was very impressed and intrigued with the speakers who would come to our state, county and local dental associations to speak to us as students or a new dental graduate. I started immediately upon graduating dental school, and I was invited to my component, the Essex County Dental Society. They invited me as a new graduate dentist to one of their continuing education dinner events, and they presented me with a certificate as a new member. I just loved the camaraderie and engagement. Right from that meeting forward, I had asked if I could become active on the board. Initially, I would sit in on board meetings. I was then quickly asked and appointed to become a board member. My colleagues supported me, and I was propelled from the secretary right through the presidency of the Essex County Dental Society. I always initiated myself for these engagements, and I just thrived throughout them. There was an Italian American Dental Society that opened up multi-denominations for the students, and I climbed from the chairs of that organization, from the secretary position right through the presidency. A lot of times, organizations are close-knit with select people or groups. It can be off-putting for others. My goal is to take that away and make sure everyone feels welcome. Even now, I don’t like to see one person at a table. I always make sure I go up to them because it is very important to feel included, to feel welcome.

Subscription of membership to leadership

Q: What have you seen changed on the organizational level in the past 10-15 years with our membership and our profession?

A: I am thrilled to see that the demographics of dentistry are changing. During my generation, I was one of the only young women on the board. There were two senior women who served on the board who were my mentors and role models. In general, I feel that there weren’t enough opportunities for the female dentists. Women were not quickly propelled into high leadership positions as our male counterparts. We no longer function that way. It is very inspiring and gratifying to me to live and serve in this current time of change in which the scales are tipped in favor for the female dentists stepping up and being welcomed to serve in leadership positions on all levels. The current leadership at NJDA is reflective of the members. My main goal here being a leader is that I want to energize the membership base. I want our dentists to realize they are valued and that their membership is making a difference. We at NJDA, as well as the ADA, are making great strides to offer our members the most current and relevant tools and resources of important value throughout their careers. I even say membership is a leadership position. Once you subscribe to being a member, I feel that you are already a leader. There are all different levels, and not everyone has to accelerate to a chair position or an officer position. Next year I will be commenced as the 154th NJDA president, and I will be the third female dentist to hold this position in the history of NJDA. What is even more exciting is that currently three of the five line officers at NJDA are women. That means in three of the next four years, NJDA will be led by female presidents. I am honored and excited to be at the forefront of this change that is occurring.

Encouragement to engagement of new dentists

Q: How can we engage new dentists on the organizational level?

A: It is so important for the components to start placing new dentists, to start having them hold positions where their voices can be heard as the younger faction of the profession. A lot of dentists who are in their retirement years or in the savory part of their practices are holding leadership positions. I would encourage all of the members in your component to step up and rotate these positions on the councils and committees that your component represents, so that we have the proper voice of what is needed at this time. At NJDA, we started a new dentist committee in 2006. The committee gives the board and the staff a place to bounce ideas around. It is a forum where new dentists can raise their concerns or issues among themselves before elevating to the board of trustees. For instance, we try to do three events throughout the year for new dentists, and we try to mix up the locations. The biggest thing for the new dentist committee is that it plans opportunities for new dentists to get together and socialize. The organized dentistry has the engagement, camaraderie and networking opportunities to start the building blocks for a successful future.

Rid of guilt and do self-care

Q: What do you suggest young, female dental professionals do to prepare themselves for the real world as far as work-life balance goes?

A: Female professionals may have greater tasks of balancing — wearing many hats, if you will — including commitment to professional work life, spousal relationships, childbearing and homemaking. It is very important for the female professional to take time for herself, to carve out a time slot for personal downtime rejuvenation, even if it means working one or two half-day sessions in the work week or taking a vacation with family or friends. Female professionals may be more demanding of themselves with great expectations. The key is not to feel guilty about taking time out for yourself. It is well deserved, and in doing so, you will provide a healthier outcome of life and career.

Create female camaraderie through support groups

Q: Oftentimes, the feeling of isolation can creep up, especially for new dentists who no longer have the support system from school. How can we tackle this problem on the organizational level?

A: We need to have a community to vent with and to be supported by memberships on the local and state level. It is so important for all dentists to be aware and realize that becoming a member of these organizations creates a community of support for one another. The New Jersey Political Action Committee, which generally has golf events for all members, has recently, for the past several years, offered all-female dinner events. It is not necessarily political. NJPAC created the venue for us, and these events were wonderfully attended to network with other dentists, both new and established. Being part of the community provides strength and value.

Dr. Arace’s message to dentists in honor of Women’s History Month

I strongly encourage female dentists to stay connected and be role models for each other to engage and to mentor alike because together we are a community and a support system: the ADA, local societies and our membership organizations. Women need to continue to feel empowered and step up to join the local, state and national dental associations. If you are a member, these organizations are yours. These organizations exist because of the membership, and they are there for the members. Get involved and use the resources that are provided by your organizations. If a solution to your problem does not exist, raise your voice and let’s find the answer together.

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