In this month’s letter, Dr. Rick Valachovic describes a new ADEA initiative that takes the long view—engaging today’s students to eventually fill the faculty pipeline.
In 2016, the ADEA Board of Directors approved an initiative to encourage and expand the establishment of ADEA Chapters for Students, Residents and Fellows. At last count, 30 U.S. dental schools had chapters, and eight more schools had plans to create one. Most chapters are quite young, with the majority established in the last five years. As of yet, there are no formal chapters in Canada, but ADEA has set a goal of establishing a chapter at every North American dental school, and the ADEA Council of Deans has created a working group to help ensure that this happens.
What do we hope these chapters will accomplish? Their primary purpose is to promote student interest in academic careers, or as one chapter founder put it, become “the group at every dental school that tells the story of how great a career in academic dentistry is and how accessible that career can be for anyone who wants to pursue it.” That is the vision of Tim Treat, D.D.S., who started an ADEA chapter at the Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) in 2014.
Tim graduated last year and currently serves as the ADEA Board Director for Students, Residents and Fellows. He likes to tell the story of what started him down the path toward academic dentistry. In 2013, the IUSD Dean of Students reached out to the school’s class presidents to see if any were interested in attending the ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition. Unlike his peers, Tim said, “Yes.”
“So I’m this first-year dental student, on my own, flying to Seattle, and a couple days later I’m at the ADEA Gies Awards sitting next to the Dean of the dental school and seeing the celebration of amazing things people were doing all over the country to make dental education better,” he recalls. That interaction with faculty and administrators in that environment hooked Tim on the idea of an academic career, and his exposure to the ADEA Council of Students, Residents and Fellows (ADEA COSRF) helped him see how an ADEA chapter might help make that possible. He returned to Indiana, enlisted the support of classmate Mackenzie Kelley, and together they worked to create an ADEA student chapter at IUSD.
Today, that chapter is going strong. It hosts the school’s annual Dental Day for prospective students, and its Last Lecture series, where retiring faculty members tell their stories, is among the best-attended events at the dental school.
“Tim has really been able to bring ADEA to life for our students,” says John Williams, D.M.D., M.B.A., the Dean at IUSD. “The students have now gone on to become involved in additional aspects of ADEA. In fact, the current COSRF chair is an Indiana third-year student, Allison Williams.”
IUSD faculty and administrators also report that students have begun approaching them to learn about academic careers since the school formed its chapter two years ago. Tim is not surprised. During his tenure as an ADEA Board Director, Tim has learned about the great need for dental educators in the face of pending retirements. He sees this as an opportunity for his generation to “get into faculty positions and make a difference,” and he believes the timing couldn’t be better.
“More and more students each year will never own their own practices. Academic dentistry is an alternative with many benefits,” Tim says. He is clearly convinced of that. He is currently in a general practice residency at the Veterans Administration hospital in Indianapolis. Once completed, he intends to return to his alma mater to teach, and thanks to John Williams, a wonderful new transitional appointment awaits him.
“A year ago I created a clinical fellowship program for prospective faculty who had recently graduated,” John told me. The two-year fellowship will allow students who have completed a general practice residency or AEGD program to continue to develop their clinical skills and an academic portfolio. They’ll learn about teaching, assessment, curriculum management, accreditation—even the finances of dental education. “It will be a robust exposure to what it means to be an academic,” John says.
Recent events at IUSD represent exactly the types of developments we need in order to ensure that the next generation is ready to step into our shoes. It is estimated that only 4% of students need to go into academia to solve the future faculty problem. In other words, if two or three graduates from each dental school were to follow Tim’s path, those projected faculty vacancies that keep us up at night would disappear. The first step is to make sure that students know about ADEA and are aware that academic careers are an option.
“Every academic institution has an opportunity, if not a responsibility, to engage their students in this option,” John believes. “The more we can talk to students early on and get them good role models, the more I think you’ll have a significant improvement in faculty recruitment and retention.”
One of those role models is Jennifer Perkins, D.D.S., M.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry (UCSF SOD). She is also the winner of this year’s ADEA/ADEA Council of Students, Residents and Fellows/Colgate-Palmolive Co. Junior Faculty Award.
Jennifer is nothing if not approachable. She remembers that as a resident, she was always the one that people would come to with questions. As one of the newer full-time faculty members at UCSF SOD, she’s developed a similar reputation.
“It didn’t take very long after my getting here in 2014 for word to get out that I was someone students could come to,” she says. Today, Jennifer’s reputation as an oral surgeon, academic, parent of four, and go-to person for advice on dental career decision-making even draws occasional calls from students on other campuses.
“I’m not a guru who knows the answers to everything,” she says, “but you know, being willing to put time in with students, that makes an impression.”
Many faculty take the time to mentor students, but junior faculty, perhaps by virtue of their relative youth, tend to be especially effective role models. Jennifer had a mentor of her own who provided the support and reassurance that she would be a good candidate for oral surgery. Her decision to pursue an academic career came later.
“I didn’t know that was going to be my career necessarily until another faculty member here in my training program told me on multiple occasions—just out of nowhere—‘You’re really meant to do academics and be a teacher.’”
When she did start teaching part time, she says it became “obvious” to her as well that she needed to become an educator. “I get equally, or more, excited about teaching as about all the other parts of my job. So I think if I was in private practice, I would really be missing out on one of the things that kind of gives life to my career: getting to interact with the next generation.”
The students in UCSF SOD’s ADEA Student Chapter nominated Jennifer for the ADEA Junior Faculty Award. ADEA at UCSF SOD is one of the largest and most active ADEA chapters. In existence for more than 10 years, it hosts outreach events for high school and college students, two lunch and learn series and tutorial sessions for dental students, and faculty/student mentorship programs—one for first-year students, and another through the ADEA Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program (ADEA ADCFP). Not surprisingly, UCSF SOD has now received an ADEA Distinguished Chapter Award five years in a row!
This month, ADEA will unveil the ADEA Chapter Toolkit for Students, Residents and Fellows at the first-ever ADEA COSRF Leadership Orientation to be held here in Washington, DC. The toolkit is a dynamic resource intended to help ADEA Student Chapters cultivate interest in academic dental careers. It includes information and resources to guide chapter creation, member recruitment, fundraising and planning events that will raise awareness of academic dental careers.
“It’s a matter of putting this on the radar screen and letting students make their own decisions,” John Williams believes, “but it’s far easier to do it when you have a strong ADEA Student Chapter and people know why it’s there.”
I couldn’t agree more.