Michael Joseph

Michael Joseph, D03
© Ed Malitsky

He orchestrates a national voice for dental students

Michael Joseph, a slim, intense young man with a ready smile, could probably teach a course on time management—and somehow he'd manage to find the time to do it.

Now a fourth-year student at Tufts School of Dental Medicine, during the past school year, he also served as editor-in-chief for a journal, newsletter, web site and student guides published by the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), an organization representing 86 percent of all dental students in the United States. With a membership of 17,000 dental and pre-dental students as well as associate members, it is the stepping-stone organization to the American Dental Association.

In one brief typical time span last year, Joseph saw patients, covered a protest against Massachusetts budget cuts for indigent dental patients, took pictures for the story, wrote a 1,000-word article on the event and completed a paper for an oral surgery class.

Taking on more than one role at a time is not unusual. In high school in West Caldwell, N.J., Joseph became interested in computer graphics. He turned his interest into an independent study program in which he taught himself computer programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Quark—software used by graphic designers—and then taught the programs to art teachers after school. He also made a workbook for students, and the course he designed, "Computer Graphic Art and Design," is still offered every year. In college, Joseph continued the pattern: At the University of Pennsylvania, he graduated cum laude with a degree in communications while also taking a pre-dental curriculum and completing a minor in chemistry and in fine arts.

Drawn to dental medicine because of his interest in science, Joseph has also always enjoyed working with his hands. He also liked the idea of being autonomous and not having to sit at a desk all day.

It's hard to imagine Joseph sitting for too long. As editor-in-chief, he is not only responsible for guiding the editorial content of the ASDA publications, he helped oversee a redesign effort and wrote articles and editorials. The ASDA publishes the quarterly journal Mouth, as well as the monthly newsletter ASDA News. Joseph's duties included choosing and advising an editorial board made up of four students as well as serving as a member of the association's board of trustees. The students work with two professional staff members based in the organization's Chicago office. Each Monday morning, Joseph would have an editorial meeting via phone in which he would discuss plans for upcoming issues, including story ideas and design.

Under Joseph's leadership, the organization has tackled such issues as forensic dentistry, diversity and the controversial use of DVDs in teaching dental students. At some U.S. dental schools, students are required to buy DVD players loaded with textbooks. They also take notes via the DVD and use it to follow pictures and slides during lectures. Mouth devoted an entire issue to diversity in dental schools and how it is changing the profession.

The ASDA is also examining dental licensure and supporting key changes for reform. Currently, said Joseph, most licensing exams require students to work on human subjects, and they have to find the patients themselves. If the patient does not show up for the exam, the student fails. Consequently, students wind up paying patients to appear for exams. The ASDA has been seeking the end to such exams as well as reciprocity among states for licensure so that passing the test in one state would mean the license would be accepted in another.

Joseph will serve as editor-in-chief again this year. As for what happens after dental school, well, in typical Joseph fashion, the future holds a range of interests with the possibility of pursuing further dental education but also continuing to write and perhaps design and produce public health campaigns or dental publications.

No doubt he'll find the time.