Dr. Cooley Pitches Ideas to Improve the Profession as a Voice for General Dentists

  • by AGD Staff
  • Oct 17, 2022
10-17-22_CooleyRalph A. Cooley, DDS, FAGD, has long been involved with AGD on a national basis, serving the organization in many different roles. In addition to his current role as a member of the Legislative & Governmental Affairs Council, he also represents AGD and the interests of general dentists in two additional organizations. He spoke with AGD Impact about his path to involvement. 

AGD Impact: What made you want to become a general dentist?

Cooley: I was always interested in healthcare. Growing up in a small town, I was influenced by my primary care physician, who made a lifesaving late-night house call when I was in sixth grade and rushed me to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy; my general dentist, who was caring and fun; and my orthodontist, who was professional in every way. When I was in my second year at Rice University in Houston, I realized that dentistry was the healthcare profession for me because it offered many options — getting to know patients well, improving their quality of life and having the freedom to run your practice to fit your life. 

When did you join AGD, and what has your involvement in the organization been like? 

I first joined AGD in 1984 and was encouraged to do so by the late Dr. John Chandler, who was a mentor to me. He was first to encourage me to take on leadership roles by asking me, “Do you want to get involved and make a difference in the profession, or do you just want to reap the benefits?” He said that in a positive way, but it encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone. He nominated me to serve as a board member on the Texas AGD, and that was the beginning. Right now, as faculty sponsor of our student AGD “FellowTrack” organization, I am trying to emulate Chandler by encouraging the future generation of dentists to get involved and make a difference in our profession. 

What councils and committees have you served on? 

On our state level, I served as editor, president-elect and president of the Texas AGD. I had the privilege to be our national trustee for six years and have also served on the PACE Committee, the Dental Practice Council and the Legislative & Governmental Affairs Council — where I am currently. I represented AGD when the Dental Quality Alliance (DQA) was formed and was part of the initial group that wrote the bylaws and governance structure for the organization. The American Dental Association’s Code Maintenance Committee (CMC), which maintains the Code on Dental Procedures and Nomenclature (CDT Code), is another national organization where AGD has influence, and I am honored be one of our representatives there. 

Why do you feel AGD’s involvement in entities like the DQA and the CMC are so important for general dentists? 

Both the DQA and the CMC impact general dentists, and it is important to have our voices heard. The DQA has developed dental quality measures addressing both prevention and disease management that are used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to track and improve state Medicaid services. The CMC determines the recognized CDT Code, which every dental office and third-party payer must abide by. Having a seat at the table for general dentists on this committee is absolutely essential. 

What would you like new dentists to know about the pathway to getting involved in AGD? How has your involvement in “bigger picture” activities through your council work made you a better dentist? 

The pathway to getting involved in AGD is to follow your heart and raise your hand. Don’t be afraid to volunteer at the component or constituency level and let leaders know that you want to be involved. There is always a place for any young dentist to serve, and we need young dentists in leadership positions. I tell our students at Houston that AGD saved my career. I have been inspired by, have learned so much from and been encouraged in my professional career by so many colleagues in this organization. The more time I spend with my friends in AGD, I find that I improve as a dentist and as a person. Dentistry is a difficult journey, and walking the professional path with others whom you care about makes the journey easier and rewarding. 

MemberSpotlightWhat is your life like outside of dentistry? What other hobbies and activities are you involved in? 

Those who know me know that I have a lifelong love affair with the game of baseball. I played at Rice University and coached teams in my area for more than 20 years, ranging from Little League to High School Select. I am still involved with running the press box for our local high school team, which includes announcing and playing music using the same software as most college and professional teams. This marked my 28th year, and I was surprised when the school dedicated “The Dr. Ralph Cooley and Family Press Box” with an inscription on the stadium wall. Working with children and families with many activities in the community was a blessing for me and allowed me to balance the challenges of dental practice and everyday life.