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As I realized the enormity and responsibility of being the 17th Dean of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine with its 150-year legacy, many well-wishers said “congratulations!” and then whispered “good luck.” I also received a book by Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels. It is hard to believe my first 90 days are over.

Just like with any new situation, there are many great moments and challenges. Moments and challenges that are shared and solved by an amazing community: our people, the students, faculty, staff, corporate partners, and alumni at TUSDM. Here are some of the highlights:

Our students remain engaged and proud of the work they do and the experiences and care they provide. During the White Coat Ceremony this month, we celebrated each member of the D23 class, sharing the experience with proud parents, significant others, and many of our faculty. We thanked those present with the trust that they put in us to educate the next generation of oral health care providers. Alumni of the school coated their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, as they passed on the mantle to the next generation of Tufts Dental dentists.

While visiting the Josiah Quincy School with Drs. Nehring and Dolan one afternoon recently, I was struck by the experiences of our third-year students (D21s). As a child with special needs entered the dental clinic space (three chairs and clinical services embedded in the school), I was impressed by the confidence our new student clinicians exhibited. One of the patients was visibly nervous and could not communicate in a way that our students are accustomed to. By the end of the appointment (with tell, show, do), the patient had let the students brush his teeth. I know the patient will be more comfortable the next time he is in the chair.

Dinner with my D20 mentees made me realize the amazing growth and maturity these men and women have experienced—and the impact that the faculty, staff, and patients have had on shaping them. They shared stories about the externship site in Winslow, Arizona, where a student was exposed to a chair-side CT machine that helped determine where a maxillary molar was in relation to the sinus-and the success she had in performing the extraction! They shared their experience of going on a global service learning trip to Zambia and the lives they touched, along with the mentorship they received on the trip. They reflected on where they were a year ago when they entered clinic and were already anticipating being doctors with all the responsibilities and stress that go along with what will be a very quick eight months to graduation. 

We recognized our faculty at the faculty recognition lunch in September. I discussed an article I had read in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Rob Jenkins, where he sought to answer the question: “what makes teachers great?” by defining four qualities of powerful teachers: personality, presence, preparation, and passion. I could sense all of those qualities in our faculty—whether they had been recognized for 5 years of service or for 50 years of service (see list of faculty members who were recognized in the attachment – 20th Annual Faculty Recognition).

As we prepared for today’s faculty/staff breakfast, I was also made aware of the years of service for our staff (see list of staff that will be recognized in the attachment – Staff Years of Service Awards). These individuals will be recognized officially in Medford in October/November. Eighteen staff will have served at Tufts University for a combined 290 years. On a daily basis, you will witness our staff going out of their way to help our patients, students, the faculty, and the administration. The efforts around licensing exams, the white coat, the recognition lunches, compliance issues (clinical and research), billing, accounting, individual patient needs, and admissions are appreciated. 

I am also saddened by the loss of Kevin O’Dea—a long-serving and much beloved staff member.  Our community celebrated his life and contributions with his family and friends at a Memorial Service that was held at TUSDM on September 27th at TUSDM.

And, finally, our alumni, who are excited about their school and give back in many ways. If you enter the new lobby space at TUSDM you are greeted with our “vision/purpose” statement-“GLOBAL LEADERS IN ORAL HEALTH.” The space is inviting, warm, and our front desk staff are eager to greet you. Many of the spaces and rooms have been dedicated by our generous alumni.  A plaque from the Lemchen family states that “It is important that the students, faculty, patients and staff have a memorable and positive Tufts experience.” 

Over these past few months, I have had the opportunity to meet many of our alumni. Some are passionate about having their sons and daughters enrolled and want us to make sure we continue to update our facilities, curriculum, and clinical experiences; others are educators and derive their sense of pride from teaching and giving to our students. Many give financially to help offset the costs of education and to provide our students with financial aid. On a trip to the American Dental Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Betty Ann Kearney and I met with Dan Davidson, D72, past president of the California Dental Association.  He has given back to the profession as a leader in his state to ensure that access to oral healthcare remains on the “radar screen.” We met with Steven Dugoni, D79, who gives back by being a member and past president of the American Board of Orthodontics; the extra time and energy devoted to this pursuit shows his passion for his specialty. We met with Warren Lee, DI87, and his daughter Janice, D15, DG18, two generations of jumbos (one a “double” jumbo) who serve the needs of their communities. At the TUSDM reception, we met recent graduates who are comfortable in their new practices and feel well-prepared. We celebrated those faculty who were inducted into the ACD and recognized our alum Janis Moriarty, D94, as the current president of MDS.  I met with Dr. Robert Buchanan, D46, as he visited the school from Colorado at the age of 97 and sat on his bench with students and staff. He remains engaged with his school and shared amazing stories of his life and career. Betty Ann and I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Dr. Arthur Dugoni, who at age 95 remains passionate about his school (Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry – University of the Pacific ), our profession, and their school’s alumni. He paid TUSDM a big compliment in saying that we are known for our humanistic approach, as is the Dugoni School.

In between all of these experiences, I have also grown to appreciate the relationship TUSDM has to our parent university. I travel to Medford and realize the strength and challenges we have as a collective Institution. I’ve met Provosts and Deans that are committed to the university mission and vision. At the Engineering School, Dr. Jianmin Qu proudly gave me an overview of the educational and research program. I got personal tours of new research spaces, and saw how researchers are using silk to “manufacture” scaffolds to deliver growth factors for bone regeneration. I learned about the many collaborations between the dental and engineering schools. I met with Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and I saw how The Friedman School is engaged in research, education, and public impact.

Earlier, I mentioned, “Just like with any new situation there are many great moments and challenges,” and like any institution of higher education, and like many dental schools, we have challenges. We as a group cannot shy away from the challenges, but instead must collectively meet them head on and we have to “pay it forward”—for the next generation of faculty, students, and patients who will continue our legacy. Some of the issues we face include the costs of education, the costs of practice and clinical operations, the much-needed updating of facilities with the introduction of new technologies, the creation of new programs, issues related to risk and compliance, and staying “research” relevant. These are challenges I have come to realize cannot be solved alone. Fortunately, we have an amazing team of committed people—faculty, staff, students, patients, corporate partners, and alumni, and I will draw on all of them to help us realize our aspirations, which will shape the next strategic plan “Imagine 2030.” The first 90 days are over—let’s collectively keep the good work going!


Dean Nadeem Karimbux