Students participate, alumna headlines 2023 Health Professionals Leadership Conference

Group photo of people at CHIP conference.

Learners at the School of Dentistry gained interprofessional experience and insight at this year’s Health Professional Student Leadership Conference.

The seventh annual conference held by the Center for Health Interprofessional Programs, this year’s event centered on Challenging the Narrative: Building Connections, Sharing Stories, and Working Toward Greater Health Equity. With broad participation across health sciences disciplines, goals included interprofessional collaboration, exploration of inequity in healthcare and empowerment of learners and alumni to be advocates in their fields.

The event began with a keynote from School of Dentistry alumna Victoria Gokee, DDS ’22, who shared on her path to dentistry and her experience now as a provider.

“I felt I had a duty to have my voice heard as a young, female, Indigenous dentist practicing in rural Wisconsin,” Gokee reflected on accepting the invite to deliver a keynote. “My journey has not been straightforward, and I was what you would call a non-traditional student. I wanted to share my story and my journey to pre-health and health professionals to inspire them to persevere.”

Gokee felt the interprofessionally-focused conference was an excellent fit for her first keynote experience. “As health professionals, we have a responsibility to treat our patients as a whole and work together to achieve not only the best outcomes, but healthier patients,” she explained. “I focus mainly on the oral cavity and teeth, but you can’t separate the mouth from the body.”

Though sharing her personal experience was intimidating, Gokee is confident that her presentation showcased who she is and what matters most to her. She hopes to have left attendees inspired and invigorated.

Victoria Gokee's presenting at CHIP conference.

“I hope people took away that it is possible to push forward, and that it’s important to not be consumed by school: school is important, but it isn’t always the most important thing,” she said. “I hope my story demonstrated that having a family while pursuing an education is doable, and the importance of having a strong support system.”

School of Dentistry learners also engaged in the conference, as members of the planning committee and attendees.

Hyojung Hong, DDS ’26, CHIP Executive Representative for the Class of 2026, was excited to “promote the importance of interprofessional collaboration within the healthcare field”. As a co-lead for the BIPOC Health Professional Student Collective, Hong led a workshop at the conference on creating safe spaces for BIPOC patients.

“Being able to facilitate such a conversation and allowing healthcare student professionals to engage with each other proved to be meaningful,” she said. She hopes attendees took away an understanding that there is no right answer to these topics. “Opportunities such as this conference allow for there to be movement and engagement around important topics that get neglected in the busyness of our didactic courses, so it was great to be part of this dialogue centered on our own experiences and how we can better shape future BIPOC patients’ experiences.”

Cannie Cui, DDS ’26, became a graduate student program assistant for CHIP early in her studies, and was part of the planning committee for this year’s conference. “The leadership conference provides an excellent opportunity for interprofessional healthcare students to come together and engage in meaningful discussions on topics related to today’s complex healthcare landscape,” she said.

Cui found helping to plan the conference “enriching” and appreciated the ability to guide the conference in a direction that centered diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. “It was a rewarding journey, allowing me to contribute to the conference’s success and connect with like-minded individuals passionate about healthcare and equity,” she said. “I hope attendees left the conference with a deeper understanding of the importance of interprofessional collaboration in healthcare, as well as a renewed commitment to promoting equity and inclusivity within the community. I hope they gained a newfound appreciation for the diversity of careers in healthcare and the unique experiences and concerns of professionals from various fields.”

Mari Ferrer Lugo, DDS ’26, and Scott Imberg, DDS ’26, both attended the conference after learning about the conference during their first year of studies last year.

Ferrer-Lugo hoped to gain perspective from fellow health sciences students on how to provide the best care possible for patients. She particularly appreciated the workshops and Gokee’s keynote. “As a dental student, it was an incredible opportunity to listen to her speak about her path, and the impact she has had on the dental community, both at the school and at her clinic,” she said. And the workshops “allowed me to think differently and be part of conversations that I may not otherwise get the opportunity to be involved with.

Students at CHIP conference.

Imberg, inspired by his previous experience working as a clinic coordinator at a private medical practice, wanted to continue engaging in interprofessional experiences and gain leadership skills. He appreciated breakout sessions on managing conflict and the impact of technology on patient outcomes. “In my breakout sessions, I was paired with medical, pharmacy, nursing and veterinary students,” he recalled. “It was so much fun collaborating with them all and learning about effective communication skills between different health professions.”

Whether attending as an organizer, an alumnus or a learner, School of Dentistry attendees gathered valuable insights on interprofessionalism, combatting inequity and being a leader in the field of oral health care.

“This conference was an incredible opportunity, and I learned so much more than I was expecting,” said Ferrer-Lugo. “The conference gave me the opportunity to build connections with other students with diverse perspectives, and I gained knowledge that will make me a better professional in the future.”