A Conversation With the ADEA President and CEO and Chair of the ADEA Board of Directors

Dr. West photo Quock

What’s ahead for 2021?

We sat down (virtually) with ADEA President and CEO, Karen P. West, D.M.D., M.P.H., and Chair of the ADEA Board of Directors Ryan Quock, D.D.S., to get their thoughts on the big issues and opportunities on the horizon for both ADEA and dental education, in general.

How has COVID-19 changed the landscape for dental education? 

Dr. West
: It would probably be a shorter list to consider how COVID-19 hasn’t changed our landscape. The pandemic has forced us all to think anew in terms of how we educate and prepare the next generation of oral health professionals. Perhaps the single biggest change is a renewed drive toward innovation and a willingness to look at our challenges with a fresh perspective on what’s possible.

For example, because of the pandemic, dental education has learned that remote learning, distance education and teledentistry are viable alternatives to the ways in which dental education has been delivered in the past. We have had to adjust in order to keep moving forward, and it seems to be working.

Dr. Quock: In the immediate term, the pandemic has prompted a response in the dental education at multiple levels. Certainly, schools and programs have had to adapt curricula delivery methods and patient workflows to minimize spread of the virus. At a collaborative level, I’ve noted a huge uptick in ADEA online communities like ADEA Connect, as well as regular Zoom calls of the ADEA Council of Deans.

Efforts by ADEA Advocacy & Government Relations and Policy & Research teams have been absolutely necessary to help secure things like funding and personal protective equipment for the dental education community. And, of course, all of our meetings, including the upcoming 2021 Annual Session & Exhibition, have gone completely virtual.

Do you believe these changes will be lasting, or will they fade once the pandemic itself recedes? 

Dr. Quock
: It remains to be determined if any of the aforementioned changes will be lasting. The primary “rug” pulled out from underneath us was that we could no longer count on the same type of direct physical human-to-human interaction in our daily lives as before. I presume that, in general, society will try to get back to that pre-pandemic dynamic as soon as possible. Some of the adjustments that dental educators made during the pandemic, such as virtual classrooms, probably have a place in the post-pandemic world.

As far as I can tell, there are deeper rooted challenges for dental education and oral health that already existed independent of COVID-19. At least two intertwined challenges come to my mind: a) The need to transform the delivery of oral health care and dental education to be more essentially integrated with overall health and b) The need to transform our oral health care and dental education community to be more appropriately representative and inclusive, with increasing access to care for our patients as an ultimate benefit. I hope we can make major progress in addressing these existential challenges.

Dr. West: I agree with the points articulated by Dr. Quock. I’ll add that my hope is that at least some of these changes are lasting. While going through this pandemic has been a painful experience on multiple levels, I do see a silver lining in that it has kick-started more innovation. I believe advances in remote learning and teledentistry are here to stay. I foresee further advances in technology that will lessen the need for live-patient procedures in school that are related to the determination of competency by the student.

Another possible development is a rise in faculty exchange or joint classrooms between schools. That’s quite possible in this remote learning environment, and such a development would help the faculty shortage problem as well as the diminishing budgets. Finally, this sustained global focus we’ve had on health care during the pandemic has given us an opportunity to reframe a broader conversation about health care, emphasizing how oral health care is part and parcel of overall well-being. We have to keep making that point at every opportunity.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle to advancing dental education?
How would you approach that hurdle?

Dr. West
: I think the biggest hurdle is inertia in general, and, oddly enough, we’ve been forced to clear it with the pandemic. Resistance to change is understandable. Most of us are more comfortable with the familiar. But we don’t move forward that way. Our collective experience these past 10 months has underscored the value of new thinking and the expansion of visions. I want to make sure we don’t lose that mindset even when the pandemic is behind us.

Dr. Quock: Dental education seems to be tangled in a complicated system of health and society that naturally favors the status quo. By definition, the status quo and transformation are a bit at odds with one another. It will take courage, innovation and cooperation to move forward with the structural changes that are needed. However, ADEA—with its national presence; commitment to intraprofessional and interprofessional education; and vision for access, diversity and inclusion—is uniquely positioned to foster the right conversations and initiatives. Take ADEA’s important role as a founding member of the Coalition for Modernizing Dental Licensure, along with the American Dental Association and American Student Dental Association, as an example. Beneficial evolution of dental licensure, previously thought unlikely, continues to unfold across the country. The status quo really can be thoughtfully and appropriately challenged!

What’s the biggest opportunity for dental education to capitalize on now?

Dr. West
: The opportunity is simply the moment we’re in. Let’s seize the day. There’s an appetite, a demand for change now that we’d be foolish not to leverage. For example, the pandemic has prompted several states to introduce more flexibility in pathways to licensure, and that’s something we need to build on. In a similar vein, we’re finding more openness in some quarters to looking beyond live-patient procedures as the sole means of assessing competency. The pandemic forced people to listen to new ideas, and we have to keep advancing them.

Dr. Quock: I agree completely with Dr. West. Generally speaking, it would be ideal for us to take advantage of the moment created by the pandemic-related disruption to reflect on the status of oral health and dental education. Since it’s already an unconventional time right now, perhaps there are opportunities to branch out and try things that will move us toward the transformation that’s needed.

A great example is teledentistry. There are talented individuals throughout dental education making teledentistry a working reality. There is potential for teledentistry to contribute to the integration of oral health into overall health and increase access to care. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg of what we should be exploring.

How will ADEA engage and support its members in 2021?

Dr. West
: To start, we’re going to keep listening. We both lead and serve the dental education community, and we won’t do a very good job if we’re not actively listening to what our members identify as their biggest challenges and needs. I think we’ve done a good job in responding to immediate priorities, introducing platforms where our members could exchange ideas and insights in real time. We worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure a supply of KN95 masks for the dental education community.

ADEA’s advocacy team has been pressing hard for federal funds to support dental education during the pandemic and for recognition of oral health professionals as a top priority in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Looking ahead, we’re committed to crafting virtual events and other resources that provide our members with access to the best thinking and allow them to collaborate on solutions.

Dr. Quock: ADEA will continue to help everyone to stay in touch going forward. Obviously, ADEA Connect and our many ADEA communities will be key players. And of course, the 2021 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition “WE” will be an important anchor and landmark for connection in a seemingly disconnected world.

If you had the power to change one thing about dental education, what would that be?

Dr. West
: I’d like to answer that question in terms of how we look at dentistry overall. I would make dentistry more a part of the interprofessional health care team. We are taking small steps forward, but due to our clinical structure and lockstep curriculum, as well as the lack of integration of dentistry into the medical practice and hospital environment, it is very difficult for dentistry to be part of the interprofessional clinical team.

We are working at ADEA with a consortium that has been formed among health care organizations called IPEC, which stands for the Interprofessional Education Collaborative. Our work with IPEC is focused on promoting interprofessional education and its advantages throughout the health care system and the professions.

Another item on my wish list is advancing diversity and inclusion. That’s been a passion of mine for years. I’ve seen great progress, but I know we still have much to do and further to go.

Dr. Quock: What I’d really like is for us in dental education to have more self-belief! My hypothesis is that we sell ourselves short much of the time. This leads to smaller dreams, less boldness, quieter voices and resignation to accept the “same old, same old.” It need not be this way. I’ve been encouraged and learned so much from the fantastic dental education family; we can be so much more than we allow ourselves to be.

What would your message be to those individuals who are considering a career in dental education?
What’s the best part of this community?

Dr. Quock
: The beauty of a career in dental education has to do with the type of influence that we make. Most dental graduates will pursue the vital and noble path of being direct health care providers in the practice realm. Their impact and influence will be primary and immediate, among their patient populations, staff and the communities they’re embedded in.

As a dental educator, I count it a huge privilege to have been a part of the formation of hundreds of trainees—dental students, dental hygiene students and residents—who will in turn serve hundreds of people in their own spheres. I get to experience a vicarious career of exponential influence—first, to my students and then multiplied by extension to their practice communities. And that is just the teaching aspect! Through scholarship, I aim to expand the knowledge base for a global audience. Through service like my role in ADEA, I get to take part in thought leadership and policy formation at a high level. Through it all, the dental education life is done collaboratively. The ability to grow in one’s career by learning from and with colleagues on a regular basis is precious.

Dr. West: The events of the past 10 months almost make the best case for us: dental educators are shaping the future of oral health professionals, and oral health is an inexorable component of primary care. If you want to make a positive and lasting difference in health care, starting a career in dental education is a great way to do. Plus, you’ll meet smart, supportive and engaging colleagues along the way. I know I have.

How is the 2021 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition shaping up?
What can virtual attendees expect to experience?

Dr. Quock
: It has been an impressive and inspiring process to be a part of. I need to acknowledge and give credit to the ADEA Meetings team and the Annual Session Planning Committee. Tremendous effort and innovation from these talented folks. And thanks to the many colleagues in dental education who will contribute content and service to the meeting. “WE” will be all about solidarity in transformation. Earlier, I alluded to the areas where dental education needs transformation. Hopefully participants will be enriched by these strong themes throughout the meeting. Looking forward to connecting with everyone!

Dr. West: I’m excited about what’s ahead. The ADEA staff has dived into the world of virtual events and programming with enthusiasm and a commitment to delivering excellence. Like most folks, we’re on a learning curve, and I’m happy to say that our prowess in delivering top-notch virtual events is getting better by the day. I know attendees of the 2021 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition will enjoy an informative, interactive, engaging and fun experience. As we keep growing, I think it’s important that we enjoy ourselves and support one another. I think that’s a defining characteristic of being part of the ADEA community.

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