Huw F. Thomas
Dean of Tufts School of Dental Medicine and professor of pediatric dentistry
Unlike most dental students, Huw F. Thomas never envisioned himself in private practice. Instead, he was captivated by research, and two months after his graduation from Guy’s Hospital at the University of London, he was on his way to the US—first stop, the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, New York—to become a scientist, pediatric specialist, and teacher.
Thomas—who was a professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and then led the dental school at the University of Alabama-Birmingham before coming to Tufts eight years ago—says he has “no regrets at all” about his decades in the classroom. “I have loved every single minute.”
Family ties “My father was a schoolteacher, and eventually a school principal. I grew up in an environment where education was valued above everything else. I was taught that the success in your life would be based on your education. I still don’t think any differently. It’s about the quest for knowledge and self- and community-betterment, I think that’s what drove me into it.”
The magic of teaching “When you see that ‘aha’ moment for a freshman dental student, it’s tremendously rewarding. When you are sharing your knowledge with a patient, when you’re passing on information—even when you’re treating a three-year-old—you’re also teaching.”
Learning on the job “It wasn’t until I was in the early stages of my academic career before I ever had any instruction in teaching, and it was very limited. You tend to teach the way you were taught. You emulate the teachers who made the biggest impression on you, and those who helped you learn what you needed to learn.”
Assess and adapt “Today’s students learn a different way. They want access to information 24/7. They can Google it all, whereas I had to go to the library if I was really motivated. The way we teach students has to respond to that changing climate.”
Transferable skills “The same technical skills that make for a good clinician make for a good teacher of dentistry. Almost all dental educators—unless they are teaching strictly basic or behavioral science—are essentially clinical educators.”
professor of comprehensive care and director of the division of medicine
A physician trained in anesthesiology, Kanchan Ganda seemed an unlikely candidate to spend the rest of her career surrounded by dentists. But leading a single course instructing future dentists how to take a medical history and conduct a physical exam changed everything.
“I found the magic of teaching in that experience. Seeing the thrill in the students’ eyes when they understood something was priceless,” she said. “This experience was so infectious, and I felt this was something that I should keep doing.” After the birth of her twin daughters, a friend and fellow physician suggested she take over his volunteer gig at the School of Dental Medicine. She has stayed for thirty-nine years, and went on to design a medical-dental curriculum that made Tufts a pioneer in interprofessional education.
Back to school In her early days in the predoctoral clinic at Tufts, Ganda would often overhear students asking their dental professors about patients’ medical conditions. “I always kept telling the late Dr. Stanley Schwartz, the then-chair of oral diagnosis, how it would be great if the students were exposed to case-based applied medicine and pharmacology, prior to treating patients,” she recalled. “I think I had said it so often, that Dr. Schwartz ‘assigned’ me with this task. So, I started attending preclinical classes, to see what was being taught. Over a period of two years, I drew up a plan on how we could create a complementary program that would integrate medicine into dentistry.”
Learning to teach “I had no formal training in education; I was just a physician with good clinical training,” Ganda said. “I saw what our students were encountering in the clinic. The complexity of the cases and the number of medically complex patients were rising. I thought the best way would be to empower the students with a good foundation of clinical and applied case-based medicine and pharmacology education during the didactic years. When the students started patient care, they would be more confident and knowledgeable.”
Staying the course “When I started out here, I was told by a well-meaning person that I should keep a low profile if I wanted to stick around, because I was a physician, and a woman,” Ganda said. “I kept doing what I felt needed to be done because I enjoyed what I was doing.” All these years later, that feeling never left. “I believe in treating my students as my future colleagues, and many alumni now are my colleagues. I feel truly blessed to be a part of Tufts Dental.”
Morton Rosenberg, D74
professor emeritus of oral and maxillofacial surgery
As he approached the end of dental school, Morton Rosenberg was at a loss. He knew private practice wasn’t for him, but he wasn’t sure which career path to pursue. Then he learned the School of Dental Medicine and New England (now Tufts) Medical Center were looking to train a dentist in anesthesia. “I found my special place,” said Rosenberg, who went on to become a national leader in the field of dental anesthesiology. When Lonnie Norris—an oral surgeon he had helped train—became dean of the dental school in the mid-’90s, Rosenberg accepted his invitation to join the faculty. “I’d always been involved with lecturing to dental students,” Rosenberg said, “but as it became a full-time job, I truly enjoyed it, imparting my enthusiasm for anesthesia.” Rosenberg is also a professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at the School of Medicine.
Immersive learning “I want students to understand, rather than to memorize,” Rosenberg said. “I want them to become excited about how proficient and competent they can become.” Above all, he has sought to promote a culture of safety within dentistry. He was an early adopter of using high-fidelity human simulators to prepare students for medical emergencies—manikins that can talk, display vital signs, experience various forms of distress, and even die. “I’ve found that this type of hands-on, real-life education really makes an indelible mark on learners,” he said. “Some of the best teaching I’ve ever done has been in the operating room one on one.”
Advice for future faculty “You have to have a passion,” he said. “You have to feel that you’re making a difference. And you have to understand that while the remuneration may not be as great as going into private practice, you get to decide what you want as your rewards in life.”
Passing the baton Rosenberg said one reason he was comfortable stepping back from full-time teaching in 2016 was because his former student, Lily Hu, D12, came back to Tufts as an assistant professor, to helm the courses he had led for so many years. “I felt good having someone in place,” he said. After all, passing on the knowledge and passion to the next generation, “that’s your legacy.”
Paul Levi, D66, DG71
clinical associate professor of periodontology
For a time between graduating from the School of Dental Medicine in 1966, and returning to complete his training in periodontology in 1971, Paul Levi served in the Navy. As he repaired sailors’ mouths, executing fillings and crowns, “it became quite clear, people didn’t have to have this dental disease, tooth decay, or gum disease, if they took the bacterial plaque off their teeth on a daily basis,” he said. “That’s what started my thinking of prevention as the hallmark of what I wanted to do in dentistry.” He has been espousing the value of prevention ever since, first in his Vermont practice and later through teaching dental students at Harvard and Tufts.
Reaping the rewards Teaching “keeps you young,” Levi said. “It keeps you on your toes.” Students continue to pose challenging questions, and researching the answers is a reward. Levi participates in the dental school’s faculty mentoring program and meets periodically for dinners with a group of predoctoral dental students. “It’s exhilarating being among young people—there’s something very exciting in it for me, as I can see the very bright future of dentistry.”
Beyond the classroom Levi sees dentists as lifelong teachers and learners, regardless of whether they spend time in the classroom after graduation. Educating patients makes them more likely to agree to recommended treatments, and more compliant about plaque removal, he said. His forty-eight years as a clinician have served him well in academia and in private practice, as he needed to figure out the most effective way to present information and motivate different learners.
Learning from each other “My philosophy of teaching is to teach students as if they are colleagues and inform patients as equals. We’re all students, and we learn from each other,” Levi said. His goal is to understand where each student or patient is in their training and understanding—figuring out what they definitely know, what they might know, and what they don’t know. “It’s my job to fill in the ‘mights’ and the “don’ts,’” he said. “My goal is to bring out the best in them.”
Carole Palmer, G69
professor of Comprehensive care and director of the division of nutrition and oral health promotion
Carole Palmer is grateful for being in the right place at the right time. While completing her dietetic internship at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, Palmer did a clinical rotation at the School of Dental Medicine, helping teach dental students about nutrition. The rotation was under the direction of Abraham Nizel, A38, D40, DG52, at the time the country’s foremost proponent of incorporating nutrition in dental education. Upon Palmer’s graduation, Nizel hired her as an instructor. Palmer loved teaching nutrition, so much so that she’s continued to do it for fifty years. “I found it very rewarding because I was helping dental professionals figure out how to effectively communicate this important information,” she said. Palmer also holds appointments at the Friedman School and the School of Medicine.
Staying power The dental school’s commitment to integrating nutrition and communication skills into its curriculum has kept Palmer at the dental school. “Many things have changed, but the basic concept of what we’re trying to do doesn’t change,” she said. “Every time I heard about another job, I realized it was not as interesting or as challenging or as rewarding as what I’m doing now.”
Communication is key “The barriers to applying nutrition in oral health care are not lack of time, or lack of reimbursement,” for dentists, Palmer said. “People only do what they feel comfortable doing. Therefore, teaching nutrition in a lecture series to dental students is never, ever going to be effective unless you also teach them how to communicate with patients.”
The classroom as stage In the first-year oral-health promotion course, the class holds a mock community forum on fluoridation. Palmer would appear dressed in a shawl and gray wig as a rabidly antifluoride grandmother, “railing about losing my freedom of choice, that my grandchildren are going to be poisoned.” The idea was to train students to defend fluoridation in a way that was understandable and convincing to critics disinclined to listen. “It’s not about being silly,” Palmer said. “It’s about capturing the attention of an audience and educating people to separate fact from fiction, which are core skills of teaching.”