Love Thy Neighbor: Forging Closer Ties With Canada

Dr. Richard ValachovicIn this month’s letter, Dr. Rick Valachovic describes a renewed ADEA initiative to strengthen the Association’s relationship with its Canadian members.

It’s no secret that ADEA aspires to play a greater role on the global stage. In 1992, we cofounded the International Federation of Dental Education Associations (IFDEA). In 2007, our Association met with colleagues from 66 nations at an IFDEA summit in Ireland, and IFDEA was subsequently reborn as the International Federation of Dental Educators and Associations. We’ve hosted five ADEA International Women’s Leadership Conferences in France, Canada, Sweden, Brazil and Spain. This April, the ADEA Board of Directors will be leading an oral health delegation to Cuba, and, in May, ADEA and the Association for Dental Education in Europe will be offering their members a two-day collaborative meeting in London. (I’ll be reporting on both events this summer.)

But closer to home, we have also come to realize there is more we can do to forge closer ties with those ADEA members who live north of the U.S.-Canada border—and there are many reasons for engaging them more fully in ADEA’s work and us in theirs.

Monty MacNeil, D.D.S., M.Dent.Sc., Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine and ADEA Board Director for Deans, recently shared these thoughts with me: “Subtle differences can be powerful tools for learning from each other. It’s important to look at how we do things—how we are alike and how we differ and what we can borrow from each other to create the most effective strategies for advancing dental education.”

Monty should know. He has spent half his life in the United States and half in Canada. When the Dalhousie University Faculty of Dentistry graduate came to the States for advanced dental education in the 1980s, he was struck by the fact that some U.S.-based dental schools had not yet adopted the competency-based teaching and assessment approaches he was familiar with at home. On the other hand, he discovered a robust and captivating research environment that ultimately led him to pursue a career in the United States.

Finding adequate research dollars is a challenge most everywhere, but U.S. dental educators are relatively fortunate in this regard compared with our Canadian counterparts. (For more on the ways our Canadian colleagues are bolstering their research enterprise, see my earlier post, Re-imagining Dental Education in Canada.) In addition to federal and private dollars that support academic research, U.S. dental educators benefit from ADEA’s in-house research arm, which generates data about our educational endeavors.

Dan Haas, D.D.S., B.Sc.D., Ph.D., Dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry (U of T FOD), is eager to tap into that ability. “In Canada, we have not had the capacity to do national exit surveys of our graduates or even incoming surveys to get a snapshot of who our students are,” Dan told me. He would like access to ADEA’s expertise to form a national picture of how Canadian students are doing, where they are going professionally and whether Canada’s predoctoral education programs are achieving their goals. He’s also interested in learning more about the faculty experience—all achievable goals if ADEA expanded its surveys to include Canadian schools.

This possibility was one of several topics raised during a Montréal meeting last November with Dr. Monty MacNeil, several senior members of the ADEA staff, the deans or associate deans of nine of the 10 Canadian dental schools, and representatives of the Association of Canadian Faculties of Dentistry (ACFD), ADEA’s sister association in Canada.

Canadian schools first joined the ADEA fold decades ago, but their priorities and challenges remain uniquely Canadian. A desire to bridge that divide to better engage and serve our Canadian members inspired Monty and ADEA’s Senior Scholar in Residence, Leo Rouse, D.D.S., to propose the November meeting. Including Canadian schools in ADEA’s surveys was just one of several ideas floated by the meeting participants. We also discussed bringing Canadian schools into ADEA AADSAS® (ADEA Associated American Dental Schools Application Service) for predoctoral students.

Currently, only the University of Dalhousie Faculty of Dentistry participates in ADEA AADSAS. Including all Canadian dental schools would require making the application available in French for French-speaking students applying to the three dental schools in Québec. We are already exploring this possibility with Liaison International, our application services partner.

Paul Allison, B.D.S., Ph.D., Dean of McGill University Faculty of Dentistry and President of ACFD, is also enthusiastic about Canadian schools working more closely with ADEA. In addition to having Canadian dental schools participate in ADEA surveys and ADEA AADSAS, Paul would like to find ways to engage more Canadian faculty in ADEA’s professional development programming.

“There are some fantastic opportunities for learning and networking at these big ADEA meetings,” Paul told me, but he says making Canadian participation a reality can be challenging. “Speaking for McGill, when we send someone away to a conference in the middle of the academic year, it affects the teaching. We just don’t have the spare capacity.”

Funding can also be an issue for small schools with tight budgets. This year, ADEA took steps to ensure that all Canadian faculty were aware of our policy that any dental faculty member who had not previously attended an ADEA Annual Session could apply for free registration for the 2017 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition.

“We have three new hires who started in July,” Dan told me, “and all three jumped on this because they want to learn how to teach, so I was quite thrilled.” This will be U of T FOD’s largest turnout at any annual meeting in memory, in part because Dan is also supporting the attendance of several of his academic administrators. Paul also mentioned that a number of Canadian deans will be attending this year.

As the current President of the ACFD, Paul sees other ways that ADEA could help Canadian schools over the long term. ACFD provides a forum where Canadians can network and help one another on issues that pertain to dental education in Canada. The association also represents the Canadian dental education community in interactions with other organizations that influence Canadian dentistry. Nevertheless, in comparison with ADEA, ACFD is small and more limited in what it can do. Paul hopes that closer ties between the two organizations will eventually lead to a greater range of services for ACFD members while freeing up ACFD to focus exclusively on Canadian concerns.

And how would this “rapprochement” benefit ADEA members here in the United States? Our Canadian colleagues recently published a new predoctoral competency document, and they have just agreed to create a working group to explore various postgraduate education models with the idea of establishing a mandatory postgraduate year for new dentists. If history is any guide, these efforts will provide inspiration and models that also inform the evolution of dental education in the United States.

“Collaboration is how you grow,” Dan says, “not in size but in continuing to get better at our two main missions: research and education.” I heartily agree with that statement, and believe cross-border collaboration is a potent facilitator of that growth.

“At the end of the day,” Monty points out, “we do the same things. We educate students, we provide care to patients and especially the underserved, and we have a research mission within our universities that can be quite substantial. It’s just a matter of defining where we can help each other achieve the best results.”

In many ways, U.S. and Canadian dental education are already intertwined. Each year, 150 Canadians cross the border to study dentistry in the United States. The two systems have reciprocity in terms of accreditation, and three U.S. dental schools now have Canadian-born deans.

Just as importantly, the cross-border sharing of ideas plays a substantial role in advancing educational policy and practice in both nations. Consider, for example, these two practices—Objective Structured Clinical Examination, a Canadian export that has gained traction in the United States, and holistic review, which has crossed the border in the opposite direction—and the value of this international collaboration immediately becomes clear. ADEA is taking concrete steps to advance this collaboration, including sending a delegation to the ACFD annual meeting in Québec City in June. I have no doubt these and other efforts across North America will serve all ADEA members well in the years ahead.

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