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The need for innovative dental professionals, community leaders in this age of challenge & uncertainty

By Louis W. Sullivan, MD


Louis W. Sullivan

Photo by Lifetouch

Last month, Dr. Sullivan was the University of Minnesota School of Dental Medicine’s commencement speaker. His words, as always, were inspiring. Our nation’s cadre of compassionate dental professions is ever more important. The number of dental shortage areas is significant and for many Americans, affordable dental care can seem out of reach. We look forward to the positive impact the University of Minnesota’s newly minted graduates will have as they begin their professional journeys contributing their skills and commitment to their communities – and the nation.

Please take a moment to enjoy and appreciate Dr. Sullivan's message.

“I bring greetings, and good wishes to the president, the deans, and the faculty, staff and students of the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center; and, for the members of the Class of 2017, for your family, your supporters and your friends, I give you my congratulations! Congratulations on achieving this personal and professional milestone in your life. This is the result of your many years of hard work, of commitment and of sacrifice. You have all grown in stature, in knowledge and in wisdom at this university. You will leave today as educated, recognized health professionals.

You enter the health professions at a time of significant growth, increasing demands from our citizens for services, continuing innovations and – great uncertainty. As a society, we are trying to reconcile two competing value systems. On the one hand, in America we pride ourselves on our personal independence, our freedom from want and, our self-reliance. On the other hand, we are wrestling with the question of, if – and how much – we should depend upon our fellow citizens to help us, particularly in times of need – for health services and for other services as well. You must add your voices and your views to this debate. For its outcome will determine what kind of society we are.

Louis W Sullivan and Univ Minnesota graduation

Photo by Lifetouch

Dental medicine is also experiencing innovation and change. And this school of dental medicine is leading some of that change, with the programs you have introduced in recent years for the training of dental therapists – a new professional in dental medicine. I congratulate you for your leadership in training the kind of dental professionals who will help reach those among our citizens who do not have adequate access to dental services. Partnering with their other dental colleagues, dental therapists will help to improve the oral health of Americans.

As you establish yourselves in your communities, in academic health centers, and elsewhere, I urge you to provide compassionate science and leadership to your fellowman. Great leaders have a core set of values which guide them. These values include honesty, integrity, a love of learning and respect for others. Successful leaders have a clear vision of the future they wish to achieve; and they have the courage, the commitment and the persistence to achieve it. Great leaders also inspire others to reach for great goals. They have superior knowledge and skills, they are open to new ideas, they are willing to take prudent risks, they are undaunted by failure.  Indeed, they learn from their failure, and work to improve their efforts.

Through your service and your leadership, you will add value to the lives of others. And you will enrich your own life. I challenge you, Class of 2017, to continue learning – active learning throughout your lives. By so doing, you’ll remain relevant in your profession and you will be a cherished asset in your communities. Participate in the full life of your community, in political debates, in discussions about educational programs in schools – public and private; in assessing the adequacy of libraries, of recreational facilities, transportation systems, housing, air quality. 

Univ Minnesota Graduation 2017

The University of Minnesota’s School of Dental Medicine 2017 Graduation — Photo by Lifetouch

Louis W Sullivan

Photo by Lifetouch

In other words, in addition to being a highly trained dental professional, be an active, informed member of your town or city, helping to make wise decisions for the benefit and betterment of all. Great leaders take actions which add value to the lives of others.

As you move to this next stage of your lives and your profession, remember those who helped you get to this place – your parents and other family members; your teachers and counselors, your mentors and many others, who created, and worked in, the institutions which have provided the learning environment where you have prospered.

It is now your challenge, and your opportunity to make your unique contribution to improving the lives and health of your fellowman, your community and your country. For in so doing, you will provide opportunities for those who follow in your path. 

So, members of the Class of 2017, I congratulate you, I salute you for your achievements. And, I also challenge you to continue learning throughout the rest of your lives. I challenge you to be servant leaders of your generation, for our country needs you – today, and in the years to come.

Best wishes to you all!”

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