Dr. John Callahan is the current NESO Trustee to the AAO Board. The NESO Trustee also serves on the NESO Board and Executive Committee, as well as an ad hoc member to all NESO committees. Read more to learn Dr. Callahan’s story with NESO and AAO. Then visit NESO’s Pathway to Leadership to learn how to start writing your own story in organized dentistry!
THIS IS WHO WE ARE
We are all doers. We are where we are because we are the best and the brightest. Many of us were “involved” or “leaders” throughout our educational experience. Others in our adopted communities gravitate to us and often ask us to be involved in some organization. If we see value, we might. Early in my career, I focused only on family and building our practice. Eventually I was asked to be on a few local boards and said “sure”. However, although the goals and visions of those groups were solid, I was left feeling it was not worth my time and effort. There were many reasons but essentially, I didn’t feel valued and failed to see this changing in the future. I wasn’t moving the needle.
YOUR AGE IS THE RIGHT AGE TO GET INVOLVED
For many, there is a perception that to be a “player” you need to start early. This is not true. I was 45 when Dick Myers, a regional orthodontist and past President of NESO, asked me what I was doing “for the greater good.” I was in a transition time and was leaning towards local and New York State ADA communities. Dick wondered if I might be interested in engaging with NESO. We all desire to help protect our own profession and support every orthodontist to be successful. We want to do what is right to protect the health and safety of consumers in our communities. We want to feel like our actions move the needle. I saw NESO as a “maybe” so I let Dick know that if an opportunity arose to let me know. Nothing happened.
THE FUN STARTS AT A NESO ANNUAL MEETING
This was in 2001, and at that time there were no leadership development programs in place for those interested in getting involved. It was essentially word of mouth and being in the right network. After several months, I had another opportunity cross my desk and opted to reach out to Dick to let him know I was heading in a new direction. Contact was made and I was invited to come to the NESO Annual Meeting in Puerto Rico. That meeting turned out to be 3 weeks after 9/11. Few folks were flying, and the meeting was sparsely attended, but it was an opportunity for me to network with leadership and “see” what might be. I left feeling that this could be a place I could thrive. The passion of the NESO leadership for our profession and members was meaningful and inspiring. I was impressed with the culture. These were my peers, and they enjoyed and supported each other. I looked forward to the next event.
THE NESO BOARD EXPERIENCE
I was soon asked to be the New York State representative on the Council on Government Affairs (COGA). There is no longer such a position. Although the position did not offer the engagement I sought, the chair of that NESO council asked me to attend the NESO Board meeting in his stead for a few meetings. The opportunity to be at these Board meetings and, perhaps more importantly, engaging in the side-bar conversations and the inevitable conversations at the local watering hole led to being asked by the Trustee at that time, Ray George, to represent NESO on the AAO’s Council on Insurance. That was in 2004. Representing NESO on this council was my first opportunity and experience with the AAO. I was on this Council till 2011. We oversaw all the endorsed AAO insurance products and in the long run helping to create products that specifically supported orthodontists and their practices. We got things done. Later, in 2012 I was asked to be a director on the AAO’s liability insurance company (AAOIC). This offered me a new opportunity and I stayed on the AAOIC Board for 6 years.
MOVING UP THE NESO LADDER
I experienced early on the value of the culture I found within NESO. I recently read that men have trouble making “friends”. I can relate. It is not easy for me. Starting with my involvement in the mid-2000’s I met and became very good friends with many of my NESO colleagues. We teamed together to create exceptional Annual Sessions for our NESO members. We learned to partner with our vendor/partners to elevate our meetings and help bring in sponsorships and great exhibit halls to go along with our outstanding CE. We had fun. I was General Chair for the meeting in Providence in 2008 and began working up the officer ladder the next year, ending as NESO President in 2011-12. Despite hurricane Sandy hitting the New York area a week prior, the Annual Session in 2012 in NYC was attended by over 40% of our members. It was a great ride all made possible by a great group of orthodontists. My friends. This culture is currently still very strong within the current NESO leadership.
THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES IS THE HEART
In 2005 I was asked to be part of the NESO delegation to the AAO House. The AAO House is the policy making body of the AAO. I stayed in the delegation till 2014. I was fortunate to be chair from 2011-14. I wish this experience for everyone. Being involved in the House is extremely rewarding. You know you are deeply involved with how our profession is moving forward.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES IS THE BRAIN
In early 2013, I was approached by some of my NESO friends asking if I had any interest in being an AAO trustee. My first reaction was “no, hell no”. Others had shown great interest and were certainly qualified. A 10-year track- are you crazy? But I was intrigued and ended up deciding to throw my hat in the ring. NESO membership elected me as trustee in November 2014.
So why do it? In a large part it is all about timing. There are many excellent candidates that could be a trustee. But the commitment in time and length of service is significant. When asked, I often state that I believe there are only a few windows of opportunity in each of our lives to commit to something like this. For many, the window is not open when the opportunity arises every 8 years. One of the best changes seen at the AAO in the last several years was the creation of the Trustee-at-large positions (2 or 3 years), which has really expanded the opportunity for many.
The Board of Trustees is the managing body of our organization. It runs all the business of the Association. As mentioned earlier, the House is the policy making body and the Board works closely with the House. The Board also works closely with the AAO team at our headquarters in St. Louis. Our current CEO, Lynne Thomas Gordon oversees a team of around 55 association professionals who keep our machine running smoothly.
BUT WHAT DO THE TRUSTEES REALLY DO?
All trustees bring exceptional unique skill sets to the Board. Our collective goals are well defined on the 2023-27 Strategic Plan. Some recent Board initiatives which I have helped champion include development of the AAO-Wharton Mastering the Business of Orthodontics program and TechSelect through the Board’s Business Development Task Force which I chair.
I was the chair of the recently approved 2023-27 AAO Strategic Plan.
I’ve also been involved with the recent evolution in AAO advocacy. Moving from a Federal-centric approach to a more component/provincial support approach. It is important to remain a player at the Federal legislative and regulatory level but redirecting our energies to what is needed at the local level will be impactful to our members where they live.
Each trustee leaves their own mark depending on their strengths and areas of expertise. I am a clinician and a small business entrepreneur. I’m particularly grateful for the educators on our Board, as well as those who are affiliated with OSOs/DSOs. The Board is now diversifying and includes members of different genders, race and age. We are no longer the grey-haired white men’s club often perceived. This is a good thing. I’m proud to be a member of this Board. And, as with every level of our organization I have been lucky enough to serve, I now have a great many new friends.
So that is my story. If being involved in organized orthodontics is something you “think” you may want to do, there are avenues to take. Our NESO website offers a Pathway to Leadership to connect with our Executive Director and our Leadership Development Committee. Once you connect, you will be contacted and invited to get involved. Take the next steps to become a familiar face. Come to the meetings, introduce yourself, talk to some of the current leaders and see if you connect personally. Then ask them to help mentor you along. You will be welcomed with open arms.
Dr. John Callahan
NESO Trustee (2015-2023)