Forever Grateful

Dr. Richard ValachovicIn this month’s letter, Dr. Rick Valachovic reflects on his 22 years at ADEA and shares his plans for life after ADEA.

When I started in 1997 as Executive Director at the Association of American Dental Schools (as we were known before we became ADEA in 2000), my plan was to stay for about five years and then return to academic dentistry. While I am someone who normally sticks to a plan, each year I kept uncovering more to do.

From the very first day, I had my work cut out for me. At the time, six dental schools had closed in the previous decade, one more was yet to close, and seven other schools risked a similar fate. Dental Education at the Crossroads, an aptly titled report released by the Institute of Medicine two years earlier, captured the difficult choices dental education faced. As I launched my term, I was eager to chart a more auspicious course, but my initial five-year plan proved insufficient. As each new challenge emerged, I saw opportunities to continue to move dental education toward a more innovative, inclusive and stable place.

While there is still much to do, today the dental professions have attained considerable standing—not only within the oral health community, but also alongside our colleagues in higher education and our partners in other health professions such as medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Dental education is now part of federal and global policy discussions. We have made progress in connecting the mouth to the rest of the body. And with these allies across the health professions and higher education, we are working to realize a vision for health care where the entire care team, including dental professionals, is educated together to serve the whole person.

Our Association has also blossomed into an organization with over 20,000 individual members representing the multiple institutional and individual member communities within dental education. Internally, our organization has grown from a staff of 10 to a staff of 75 and from a $3 million budget to one of almost $30 million, with $25 million held in investment, reserve and ADEAGies Foundation® portfolios.

But these accomplishments are not mine alone. It has been a privilege to lead a capable and committed staff and to be part of a vibrant community of scholars and clinicians dedicated to improving the dental and overall health of all people. Without the individuals in our community who gave their time selflessly and without compensation to serve in the leadership roles at ADEA, none of this would have been possible. The work has been challenging at times but always rewarding, and it has been an honor to play my part.

So what’s next? The time is right for our new President and CEO to carry the new ADEA strategic plan forward, and it’s not too soon to begin planning for 2023, when we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of our Association. When that event occurs, my wife Mary Kay and I will be in the front row.

As for me, in recent months I’ve often heard the voice of Pete Seeger in my head singing, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” I plan to take the summer to refresh and think about ways to continue playing a meaningful role in this complex world we live in. I know many opportunities await, but few can rival the rich experience I’ve had over the past two plus decades. For that—and to the many people who made it possible—I will be forever grateful.


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