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AAE Catches Up with Leadership Development Participants

AAE Catches up With LDP Participants, Drs. Maria C. Maranga and Marcus D. Johnson

Last March, the AAE held its inaugural Leadership Development Program in Chicago. Fourteen AAE members were selected to participate — two from each of the AAE’s seven districts — for a one-day dynamic leadership program. The goal of the program was to create and energize future AAE leaders. Participants took part in strategic discussions about the endodontic specialty and trends in dentistry with current AAE Board of Directors, connected with mentors already highly engaged in the AAE, and learned about different paths to leadership.

AAE staff caught up with one of those pairs, District II Director Dr. Maria C. Maranga and emerging leader Dr. Marcus D. Johnson, to learn more about their key takeaways from that event, as well as what mentorship means to them.

Dr. Johnson has aspired to become a dentist since the age of 11. After completing dental school at the New York University College of Dentistry and his endodontic training at Case Western Reserve University in 2011, he started his career as an associate working and learning within a seven-member endodontic group practice in Long Island, N.Y. In 2012, he started his own practice, City Endodontics, a private office in Midtown Manhattan specializing in endodontics and microsurgery. Dr. Johnson is an active leader in his county and state dental associations.

Dr. Maranga was recently named one of Dental Products Report’s Top 25 Women in Dentistry for 2017. A private practice endodontist, Dr. Maranga fundraises for the NYS Dental Foundation, whose mission is to improve the oral health of all New Yorkers. She is known for having a “special gift of connecting with others” — which undoubtedly comes in handy in her work mentoring dental students and residents. Dr. Maranga served on the AAE Board of Directors from 2014 to 2017. Recently, she was instrumental in launching the statewide NYS Veterans Smile initiative, which encourages dentists to volunteer their time and expertise to providing veterans with much-needed dental treatment.

What are some key insights you gained as a result of attending the inaugural AAE Leadership Development Program last March?

 Maria Maranga: The first insight was that there are so many highly qualified young AAE members who, without this program, we would have failed to identify. Each had superb CVs coupled with community service and other health-type activities. Another insight was that it takes a lot of expertise to plan, organize and then execute the project to its completion. Lastly, I believe that the project still needs to have its own feet and take off. I would love to see these mentees start their own communication blog to help each other.

 Marcus Johnson: I learned a variety of things. To touch on a few points, the program really highlighted effective communication, which integrates into marketing and brand building, and organizational leadership by exploring various paths in the AAE. In addition, the familiarity and camaraderie fostered through this program cannot be overstated. Other participants and I feel very comfortable approaching and reaching out to the senior leadership of the AAE as well as the executive administration. There is something intangible about being able to speak candidly with someone, having a sound level of comfort engaging them in conversation and discussing relevant issues.

Were there any “surprise takeaways” that you hadn’t considered prior to attending the program?

 Johnson: Earning the opportunity to enhance my leadership and communication skills, strengthen professional networks and participate in strategic discussions with AAE Board members were amazing takeaways in and of themselves. However, listening to the keynote presentation on dentistry trends from Dr. Marko Vujicic, chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute, framed the program through a different set of lenses. With detailed research highlighting practice trends, shifts in economy and overall consumer behaviors spawned by socioeconomic factors and access to information, I better understood the importance of fostering aspiring leaders within the AAE. The urgency of establishing a pipeline to usher in new active leadership through governance and direction of our organization provided a new sense of accountability and inherent responsibility for me. Learning the craft of proper engagement of other organizations at the state and local levels seemed to make a lot more sense when the vivid narrative detailing discussions on significant issues facing the Association and the dental profession were brought to life through stats and graphs.

The future is full of opportunities, but as a profession we must be willing to embrace these opportunities with innovation and adaptation to stay relevant, accessible and vital to the public as well as our colleagues.

What does mentorship mean to you? What does leadership mean to you? How do the two go hand-in-hand?

 Maranga: There’s no special formula, just the caring of one individual to another, and another, and then another. We sometimes don’t set out to be a mentor; it just happens. But when the mentee then takes on his or her own mentee, now the perfect circle of mentorship is complete. Leadership is similar to mentorship. In leadership, though a good leader leads from behind and lets others take the credit, as per Nelson Mandela, a leader allows others to fall and be the mortar to fix things up without anyone knowing. Another favorite leadership quote is from John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.”

At some point, a leader was a mentee of another person, who was guided and given opportunities to tackle some projects. I once had a dental student who was my mentee. When she went into a PG pros program, I asked her to be a guest presenter at my women’s CE annual event, Scrubs and Stilettos. She was honored yet nervous. I told her, “What better audience to see you than people who have groomed and cared about you during your dental school years?” She did a great job. This year I wanted her to attend as an attendee. She was unable to, but sent the registration money to cover one dental student in my honor since I had always paid for up to five students to attend the event. So you see, the circle of life is now complete.

 Johnson: Mentorship illustrates the essence of my favorite quote about life, “Lift as we climb!” My life has been positively shaped by leaders who have reached down, extended a genuine helping hand of guidance, wisdom and concern which has allowed me to step into positions where I can extend a similar hand of support, encouragement and inspiration, thus lifting as I climb. As I reflect upon the significance of mentorship within dentistry, I have a profound appreciation for my introduction to organized dentistry as a first-year dental student. The organic exposure I gained consisting of camaraderie, new experiences, and knowledge helped me identify as someone who wanted more than a dental degree, someone who wanted more than dentistry as a profession, and ultimately someone who wanted to lead by example.

I was fortunate to earn the position of chief resident during endodontic residency and chair various committees for my local dental chapter, all of which prepared me to be an effective team leader within my private practice. I have been able to cultivate my leadership skills, through countless interactions from mentors like Dr. Maranga, a leader I respect and admire with an impactful legacy at the local, state and national level. Leadership to me means progress, innovation and integrity, and I have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the importance of maintaining active involvement within organized dentistry and encouraging others to become engaged and trained to be leaders and visible mentors well into the future.

Communication is key for any mentorship relationship. How do you keep the dialogue going even when there are other priorities to contend with in your professional lives?

 Maranga: By always being honest. If the mentee is overwhelmed by something, then the mentor must either step in and complete the task or communicate that the timing for a perspective project is not right, with no hard feelings made.

 Johnson: Without communication, any relationship will suffer. I have found that though integration of professional experiences and mentorship this narrative surprisingly aligns with real-life experiences. There are a variety of aspirations, situations, and problems personal or professional that lend themselves to growth. Many times, this growth may manifest as an issue stemmed in professional circumstances but through open conversation with mentors who may provide encouragement or advice, you soon realize life imitates profession and profession imitates life.

I value the connections I have with my mentors and try to keep communication lines open, and I’m very fortunate this is recognized as a two-way dialogue, eliminating ego.

How can we ensure emerging and future endodontic leaders are adequately equipped to become true champions of the specialty?

 Maranga: I would think by having the executive have a mentee like an intern. This way they can get the sense of the difficulty of the future position without being overwhelmed.

 Johnson: Ensuring we equip our future leaders will always present with challenges. Recruiting the best and brightest at the grassroots level is vital. Individuals who aspire to change and adapt our profession for the better must be sought after early and mentored.

Leadership roles demand responsibility, accountability and commitment that is often not mirrored by economic compensation. Through active and visible leaders reaching out to individuals who show slight interest and nurturing those inclinations, I feel is a good start.

Setting the highest standard for excellence should also be promoted, in addition to encouragement of ideas and practices that embrace change but cling to our professional ideals.