Dr. John Drummond wins Howard S. Katz Excellence in Teaching Award

 Dr. Drummond is this year’s winner of the Howard S. Katz Excellence in Teaching Award. His dedication to teaching is not only obvious to all of the students that have passed through his classroom but to all of his fellow teachers. He hails from a true McGill family, his dad was a professor, him and his wife graduated from McGill in ’83 and two of his three children have studied at McGill. From the very beginning of his career as a Dentist he knew that he wanted to do his part in giving back to the McGill community. Currently, he maintains a full-time private practice in Montreal West and is the Course Director for Restorative Dentistry. He sat down with me to discuss his love of teaching and to reflect on his years with the Faculty.

What is your role in the Faculty of Dentistry?

My title is Course Director of Pre-Clinical Operative Dentistry. Essentially, I teach second year students how to do basic fillings and get them ready to work on real patients in the Teaching Clinic. The Simulation Lab is their first experience using the handpiece and my job, along with the other Supervisors, is to help them develop their hand-eye coordination as well as their three-dimensional perception. It is a very difficult time for many of the students because they are having to deal with the manual part of their chosen profession for the first time and this part tends to be much more challenging than just learning the theory.

What are 3 words to describe your role?

Teacher Mentor Guidance counsellor

You were recently awarded the Howard S. Katz Excellence in Teaching Award. Congratulations! What does this award mean to you?

It is an honour to be recognized by those around me! Teaching is done mainly to the students but when recognition comes from your fellow teachers, it means that your successes at the grass roots with the students have permeated beyond the classroom and out into the Faculty as a whole. It means even more that the award is named after one of my own teachers from when I was in school. Dr. Katz taught us pharmacology and did a great job making a dry subject interesting and entertaining.

Why did you choose to begin teaching?

Following graduation, I left Montreal for a few years. When I returned I was looking to get back into the academic life at McGill. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time here and wanted to continue having that same sort of fun and the same impact on students that my teachers had on me. My father was a McGill Professor in the Department of Geography, so I had grown up in academics and wanted to continue to contribute in some way. In 1986 Dr. John Blomfield approached me looking for help in the Simulation Lab so I happily signed on! I worked closely with Dr. Ivan Stangel for the next 13 years in restorative dentistry and when he moved on I assumed his responsibilities as Course Director in 1999.

What are the best and the most challenging parts of your position?

As I teacher, I cherish the student-teacher interaction and helping students to achieve their potential. I enjoy watching students evolve and grow into professionals. The challenging part of teaching is motivating students to put in the extra work necessary if they really want to achieve excellence. My position is a little unique in that I only spend time with the students in the Simulation Lab. Teaching in the Simulation Lab comes with a different set of pros and cons than teaching in the Teaching Clinic. The best part about what I do specifically is getting to deal with the students early on in their dental experience. It gives me a chance to show them the passion that I have for helping them as they embark on their journey to becoming a dentist. As Supervisors in the Simulation Lab, we are quite literally with them for their first real, hands-on dentistry related activity. They have been waiting for this since being accepted and it is very exciting to watch their enthusiasm. It is extremely rewarding watching the students develop their hand eye coordination and an appreciation for how basic dental procedures are done. The challenging part of my position is in reminding the students how all of this relates to the real patients that they will see in the Teaching Clinic. It can be difficult to put things into context for students sometimes.

Did you have mentors to help you get to where you are today? How were these people influential to you?

I had several mentors when I was a student and early on in my teaching career. My own profs who taught me and inspired me to want to give back. Dr. Bill Sanders was very inspirational as a full-time teacher. Dr. Jack Fenwick and Dr. Gerry Konanec were great supervisors. As a young supervisor myself, I spent a lot of time working with Dr. Ike Silver who acted as a role model and mentor guiding me into becoming a better supervisor and better teacher.

Has your teaching style changed over the years? Has the moving into the new facility had an impact on your teaching?

Teaching has, over the years, changed in many ways but the ultimate goal of helping students learn and hone their skills, and develop into professionals will never change. Technology has driven us forward from using overhead projectors and blackboard diagrams to PowerPoint presentations and streaming videos. We have moved from classic lecture style presentations to small group case study discussions. The new dental simulators make pre-clinical working much more like real life. Besides technology changing the way we teach, students have also changed meaning that hat we have to alter and adapt our teaching approach. There has been a gradual shift over the years with how students interact with the teaching staff and what they want to get out of the program. As a result I tend to cater more to individual needs than I used to. This often means a greater time commitment. As for the move to the new facility, it has greatly improved our working environment as we are now freshly motivated and can enjoy working in a bright new space with state of the art equipment. It allows us a better set-up for live demonstrations and interactive lecturing.

What do you like most about working in the Faculty?

The network of colleagues and the feeling of an extended family made up of fellow teachers, students and support staff.

What has been your favourite project with the Faculty?

Helping to organize the Dining with The Dinosaurs reception during the 2004 centenary celebrations.

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