Brushing up on dental education

Joel Berger
Dr. Joel Berger

Finding qualified professors in any field can be a challenge: not many people are prepared for the years-long commitment it takes to earn a doctoral degree. Finding qualified professors in dentistry – which is competing against the profitable promise of private practice – is doubly difficult.

“We struggle to find people to fill these positions,” admits Dr. Michel El-Hakim, MSc’06, Director of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery program in the McGill Faculty of Dentistry. “Obviously, the economics of private practice are way better than a teaching or research career.”

This challenge compounds itself over time, as fewer clinical teachers attract fewer surgical residents. The Faculty tries to offer hospital-based practices and part-time positions to boost the economic appeal of graduate studies for candidates, but it isn’t always ideal. “On the research side, if you don’t have people doing it on a regular basis, it is hard to interest Master’s or PhD students in a research career once they graduate,” says El-Hakim.

Fortunately, Dr. Joel Berger, BSc’69, DDS’73, is helping to rectify the problem. A professor at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Berger understands the importance of supporting young researchers – and of scientific mentors. He credits former Dean Ken Bentley, DDS’58, MDCM’62, for his own path to academia.

Through Campaign McGill, Dr. Berger has committed to making lifetime annual $50,000 donations, as well as a significant bequest to create the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Research Fellowship and to support the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Research Training Program.

“The goal is to train future university teachers and researchers in oral surgery,” Dr. Berger says. “It’s rare to have a DDS and a PhD, and those few who do have both typically stay in academia. The PhD gives them a taste for research and academic dentistry.”

The gift nicely complements that of Professor Harry Rosen, DDS’53, a committed educator in the Faculty whose passion for teaching led him to create the Dr. Harry Rosen Endowed Clinical Teaching Fund. The fund aims to assist young clinical instructors in developing their teaching skills – by offering them access to training opportunities and improved teaching tools.

“These gifts are innovative and transformative,” says Dean of Dentistry Paul Allison. “The support will create new opportunities for students and young clinical instructors to grow into their academic roles.”