Fall 2013

The Next Generation of Dental Educators

Career fellowships aim to cultivate new faculty

By Jacqueline Mitchell

It’s a generational paradox. As the 78 million Americans born in the decades after World War II—the baby boomers—reach their 60s and 70s, they’ll need more health-care services than ever, just as their peers in those fields begin to retire in droves. The next generations will scramble not only to provide those services, but also to educate and train enough new professionals to take care of their parents and grandparents.

Dental schools are already feeling the crunch. There were 369 unfilled faculty positions at 53 dental schools during the 2007–08 academic year, according to an American Dental Education Association (ADEA) survey. If current trends continue, there could be as many as 900 faculty vacancies by the end of this decade, according to a 2011 report in the Journal of Dental Education. 

That’s why ADEA and the American Association for Dental Research in 2006 began offering yearlong fellowships so that students can test-drive academic dentistry. This year, three Tufts students were among the 10 selected nationwide for the Academic Dental Career Fellowship.

Yusuf Bhatti, D14; Irina Dragan, a student in the combined master’s and postgraduate programs in periodontology; and Courtney Michelson, D14, will each conduct original research while getting teacher training in the clinics and classrooms at Tufts.

The Tufts fellows will work closely with their faculty mentors. Dragan’s mentor is Paul Stark, professor of public health and community service. Michelson will work with Yun Saksena, DI00, an associate clinical professor of diagnosis and health promotion and Bhatti will work with Wanda Wright, an assistant professor of public health and community service.

The fellowship should give the trio a taste of daily life in a university setting, Wright says. “That perspective, hopefully, will prepare them to pursue academic careers,” she says.

Dragan has been interested in a career that combines research and clinical work since she was a dental student in Romania. As the only dental resident nationwide to receive the fellowship this year, she’s particularly eager to hone her teaching skills. “I had great teachers who mentored me and gave me such valuable advice,” she says. “They helped me become the person I am today.”

Michelson’s research project might help shed light on why there’s a faculty shortage in the first place. She is developing two surveys, one aimed at current Tufts faculty to determine how and why they ended up where they did. The other questionnaire will assess current Tufts dental students’ attitudes about research and teaching. “A lot of students don’t even think about a career in academic dentistry,” Michelson says. “Does it have to do with [the amount of their] student loans? Or are they not even interested?”

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