June 2011
Volume 32, Issue 5

Educating Future Leaders of the Oral Health Community

R. Bruce Donoff, DMD, MD; Kimberly E. Ritrievi, PhD and Walter C. Guralnick

Each year at Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s (HSDM) graduation ceremony, Harvard’s president congratulates the newly minted doctors as they join “a demanding branch of medicine.” HSDM’s small size and its unique, close affiliation with Harvard Medical School prompts its long-established role as an educator of leaders of the oral health community. At HSDM, there is the sense that the oral health community is at an inflection point, and, therefore, the school is questioning how to enhance its curriculum to produce young leaders who will possess the abilities to embrace, shape, and drive change ahead of their years.

HSDM needs to produce a new group of leaders who not only are great teachers capable of transferring knowledge to the minds of students, but are able to transfer the will to change as well. HSDM must embrace and seek to enhance Harvard’s long tradition of public leadership and service, which will benefit all communities, local and global.

Global health is an arena where students should have opportunities to learn and practice. To that end, HSDM has established a Global Oral Health Initiative as a formal expansion of the school’s historical mission to improve the oral health of the public, whether in the United States or in countries around the world. For HSDM, global health means public health, with oral health being one important facet of overall systemic health. With a mission to develop and foster a community of global leaders, HSDM considers advancing public health as one of the school’s core values.

The following are the initial goals of HSDM’s Global Oral Health Initiative:

  • Creating a program that promotes the development of global leaders, innovates meaningfully when compared with other dental schools, and leverages Harvard’s unique platform.
  • Developing an internationally recognized team of experts in global public health who embody the academic ideal of teaching, research, and patient care.
  • Graduating at least two DMD students, three advanced graduate education (postdoctoral) students, and one midcareer professional each year who are committed to careers in global public health.
  • Replicating the Cambridge Health Alliance community-service model across the United States and around the world as a living example of the ways in which teaching, research, and patient care can come together to improve the health status of underserved populations.
  • Partnering with other Harvard schools and institutions and leveraging their infrastructures to create sustainable education and research programs in developing countries.
  • Partnering with established provider organizations to deliver preventive and therapeutic services to underserved populations that make a measurable difference in their health status.
  • Coordinating all teaching, research, and patient care activities into a set of sustainable programs with measurable results.
  • Leadership is about change, and to continue the exploration of new ideas for HSDM students and community, a group of leaders in the healthcare community was recently convened for a day-long session to discuss the intersection of primary care and oral health. These leaders came from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, both inside and outside Harvard—clinicians, educators, scholars, business and insurance executives, and not-for-profit directors. Many of these participants have led national and international dental professional organizations.

    The convened group identified many plausible options for how HSDM might move forward to lead the dental education and wider communities both by example and through advocacy. While the group has not yet arrived at any formal or final action plans, the sense of the participants, based largely on their experience, was that their organizations, as well as many within the oral care arena, are not fully equipped to drive change. In many respects, existing organizations could be considered perpetuators of the status quo. One certainty that was agreed upon was that reconnecting the mouth to the rest of the body in medical education and practice would benefit providers and consumers of oral care.

    The winds of change are blowing in oral health, and HSDM is planning more changes beyond its Global Health Program. Global health is public health, and Harvard needs to look through a new lens at oral health as primary care and produce leaders who are educated and trained with this in mind and action.

    If you would like to share your perspectives, please email us at hsdm_dean@hsdm.harvard.edu.

    About the Authors

    R. Bruce Donoff, DMD, MD, Dean
    Harvard School of Dental Medicine

    Walter C. Guralnick
    Distinguished Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

    Kimberly E. Ritrievi, PhD
    Chair, HSDM Dean’s Advisory Board

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