Making a Difference for Dentists

Dr. Jenny Doerksen takes
the helm of the Alberta Dental Association

Dr. Jenny Doerksen wants to make a difference.

She knows the power of embracing different ideas, collaboration, and pushing for greater outcomes. In fact, it’s almost second nature to the new president of the Alberta Dental Association (ADA) who emigrated from South Korea as a teenager to the city of Lethbridge in 1999.

“I had a very limited to no knowledge in English at that time,” she recalls of arriving in Canada as a seventh-grade student. “Starting as a middle school student in Canada was an interesting chapter of my new life. My parents had given up their comfortable lifestyle in South Korea for my brother and myself to have a better future in Canada.”

The Red Deer dentist and new practice owner saw the difficult situation her profession was in during COVID-19 and felt that she could help make things better. She was concerned with governmental overreach into the dentistry profession and decided to get involved with the former Alberta Dental Association and College. That led to a position on the steering committee which crafted bylaws and was instrumental in establishing the Alberta Dental Association (ADA). And now, two years later, she is the second president of the new association.

“I am privileged to work as a dentist in Alberta,” says Dr. Doerksen. “To represent nearly 3,000 of my peers is a true honour.”

It’s been a busy time for Dr. Doerksen. Just over a year ago, she purchased Victoria Station Dental, a general practice in Red Deer. In 2023, she served as the ADA’s president-elect and then, in February 2024, Dr. Doerksen took the helm of the Association, replacing Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky whose term had ended.

“I really appreciate when members are engaged with us as then it’s not just one voice —
it becomes a collection of nearly 3,000 dentists’ voices.”

While she didn’t expect the roles of Association president and new practice owner to overlap, she was determined not to miss out on either opportunity.

“You don’t know when that second opportunity will come again,” she says.

Dr. Doerksen started practicing at Victoria Station Dental in 2018 after spending time working and honing her skills at other clinics in Calgary, Lethbridge and Red Deer.

Her tenure as President of the ADA comes at a critical time as the federal government launches the Canadian Dental Care Plan, a program designed to help eligible Canadians with improving access to oral healthcare.

She has rolled up her sleeves to collaborate with other dental associations across the country and ensure the federal government understands their message.

“Most dentists are on the same page coast to coast to coast,” she explains. “We want this program to work, but not in the way it’s currently being presented.”

“We want to improve people’s oral health, but this plan currently has some barriers that don’t fully allow us to do that. We are pleased that the federal government is listening to our concerns and some of the changes look promising, but despite what Minister Holland says, the CDCP still does not work like a normal dental plan. So, let’s talk to the government and make it happen for the patients as well as the providers.”

Back on the home front, Dr. Doerksen maintains that a strong and united approach by the Association and dentists across the province will benefit both members and patients.

“I really appreciate when members are engaged with us as then it’s not just one voice — it becomes a collection of nearly 3,000 dentists’ voices,” explains Dr. Doerksen.

“The more voices we have, the more power we have. We can be very impactful when we speak as one.”

Her belief in collaboration was shared with the Overseas Koreans Foundation, an organization in which she has lent her support. The group promotes networking among young professionals as a way to discover prominent future leaders who will contribute to advancing Korean communities overseas.

Dr. Doerksen has also taken her professional expertise to Nicaragua where she volunteered with Dentistry for All. Along with a team of dentists, dental assistants, a hygienist, and other volunteers, Dr. Doerksen helped carry out nearly 300 procedures for people in need of dental care.

“We all had a wonderful time helping people with dental pain and issues, and we were greatly appreciated by our patients in the area,” she recalls.

Her efforts contributing to the Alberta Dental Foundation have also helped make oral hygiene kits available to Food Banks Alberta, assisted with costs to cover dental equipment for a dental health bus, and provided complimentary services for geriatric and pediatric patients unable to access dental services due to low incomes.

Dr. Doerksen also values staying on top of the latest research.

“I am a lifelong learner. I am a big believer in research and continuing education,” she says. During her undergraduate program at the University of Lethbridge, she completed an Honours thesis, which was published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry investigating the relationship between human cancers and the DNA repair system in complex biological reactions.

Her own journey to become a dentist was born out of a love for both science and art.

“From the moment I was able to crawl, I was making crafts and doing things with my hands,” she recalls. “I remember the moment when I got the acceptance letter to the University of Alberta dentistry program in 2009. My mom and I were jumping in the air.”

“Good, transparent communication is very important to build trust, especially in a new organization.”

Dr. Doerksen speaks about the Canadian Dental Care Plan at the Pacific Dental Conference with other Provincial and Territorial Dental Associations

Communication and Transparency to Build Trust

Apart from advocacy on the CDCP and Alberta’s social dental programs, Dr. Doerksen’s overall goal for the new ADA remains clear.
“I want our members to be proud of the ADA. I’m very passionate and determined that the Association and Alberta’s dentists have a good reputation with the public.”

Communication and engagement with ADA members, the dental team, and the public is vital.

“Good, transparent communication is very important to build trust, especially in a new organization,” she maintains, noting it’s important to listen to all sides for advice and then make decisions accordingly.

“It’s not so much ‘I’m the leader, so I get to decide everything.’ As president, you need to amplify the voices of others.”

Two months into her role as President of the ADA, Dr. Doerksen has travelled thousands of kilometres, attended dozens of meetings, and conducted almost daily local and national interviews about the CDCP. While the long hours can be tiring, she sees the Association is making a difference for members.

“I’ve spoken with dentists across the province and received a number of encouraging texts and emails about what we are doing as an Association,” she says. “Members are feeling heard and represented, which is always our goal. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished, but there is still more work to be done.”

— Lorena Franchuk

This article appears in the March/April 2024 edition of the ADA Connection magazine.





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