100 Years of ADEA: Dr. Lisa A. Tedesco


Lisa A. Tedesco, Ph.D.

Vice Provost Emerita, Academic Affairs – Graduate Studies  
Dean Emerita, James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies
Special Advisor to the Provost, 2022-23
Professor, Rollins School of Public Health
Emory University

As a past president of ADEA, Dr. Lisa A. Tedesco knows the organization well. With a background in psychology and a strong interest in interdisciplinary collaborative research and teaching, she has modeled changes in the social and behavioral sciences to encourage innovation in the science and teaching of dentistry. During her tenure as president, Dr. Tedesco and colleagues spearheaded restructured accreditation guidelines. She continues to champion innovation in dental education.

Q. Though your background is in behavioral and social sciences, you went into dental education, becoming a professor and associate dean at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, then moving on to other posts in higher education leadership. How does your background as a social scientist help or even enhance your abilities as a dental educator?

As a psychologist, I believe in the power of change and innovation to improve lives. My research and teaching in academic dentistry is as a health psychologist. I have a long history of engaging in interdisciplinary collaborative research and teaching. From my many collaborations, my knowledge of higher education and health professions education grew tremendously. I was able to appreciate and understand our collective commitments to innovations to best advance health, and the part oral health plays for individuals and communities. Committed to disease prevention and health promotion, I was able to bring forward ideas for change built on the social and behavioral sciences. I repeatedly found myself taking ideas from research into problem solving to advance the science and practice of teaching, too. Undergirding the many aspects of this work are fundamental principles for us as leaders—the importance of taking time to understand people and the impact of our practices and policies on their lives, respecting the many individual journeys represented in our institutions and the variety of commitments that spring from what we value.

Q. You co-authored a paper that appeared in the Journal of Dental Education, “The 21st-Century Dental Curriculum: A Framework for Understanding Current Models,” where you documented major studies and innovations in dental education models and curricula. During the COVID-pandemic era, has there even more evolution in these areas, and do you see those innovations continuing?

If anything, the pandemic showed us we could change quickly, collaborate effectively and tolerate ambiguity with grace. What we teach is the base layer of our educational work. How we teach is informed by the learner, the new technologies that influence learning and the fast-changing science contributing to practice in the health professions. Students have always brought a range of interests and skills forward. The pandemic showed us many things about ourselves individually, as citizens and as a society. Dental education must do its part to reinforce, and in some settings rehabilitate, the commitments and values we have to the sciences that define our practice. Dental education must do its part to contribute to the climate and character needed to advance and sustain social justice and equity within our schools and across our universities.

Q. You also wrote a paper 20 years prior titled, “Cost, Responsibility, and the Future of Dental Education: Summary Comments to Curriculum Forum III” where you shared the profession of dental education should “view the dual concerns of cost containment and curricular innovation as a puzzle to be solved rather than as a paradox to be accepted and thus foster growth, development, and vitality.” Over the decades, do you think dental education has gotten better at doing this or is it still struggling with this puzzle?

The puzzle you pose in this question dates differently when we consider where we are with the extraordinary advancements science and technology development are bringing forward for oral health and dental practice. Twenty-plus years ago, we worked on curriculum change that had at its base the notion that dentistry will not be practiced the same way . . . whatever that notion of “same way” was then. Larry Tabak’s recent JADA editorial gives us a quick synopsis of where we are and what the future of science and technology will bring to dental practice and oral health. We are well beyond considering doing much of the “what and how” of dental education in the “same way.” Dentistry and medicine are on similar paths, and with an open perspective, paths likely to positively converge in the full interests of health and health professions education.

In terms of the cost of health professions education, student debt is not restricted to dental education. Financing our health professions students so they have preparation for practice, built on the understanding and appreciation for science, remains a both/and, not an either/or.

A last point here: let’s not forget the value and importance of “where” we teach, advancing community-based practice and the design and engagement of IPE settings. My hope here is that we see connections and possible solutions in these connections across health professions—how we bring the power of the sciences applied to practice, community and individual health.

Q. How do you think organizations like ADEA can continue to encourage/support innovation in dental education?

ADEA’s priorities position us well for future-forward leadership—leadership that is inclusive and diverse—leadership that promotes belonging and well-being in our schools and colleges. Our collaborations with other health professions organizations and with higher education organizations will provide the direction and substance for continued support and encouragement for innovation in dental education. Working together, we must persist in our support for ADEA in efforts to address the preparation of faculty who are “future ready” for teaching, research, health care and leadership.

Let me add the importance of being nimble as an organization to encourage and support innovation and change. The future will see our schools and colleges calling on ADEA for even more guidance and programming, sometimes requiring acute change management. ADEA demonstrated this nimble ability to face time-sensitive needed change during our prolonged responses to the pandemic, and is well prepared and positioned in what is its centennial recognition and legacy—the next century of leadership to advance dental education.

Q. Which of your accomplishments in relationship to ADEA and/or dental education, in general, are you most proud of?

This question is perhaps the most difficult for me to answer. In my view, my accomplishments have been done with teams, and with ranges of collaborations. It was an honor and privilege to serve as then AADS president in 1996, to contribute to leadership and board development and to revitalize productive relationships with the ADA. During that time, AADS and colleagues restructured accreditation guidelines. Leadership programs were established as summer workshops, and the move toward competency-based education began, with all its working groups, discussions and arguments. During this period, we re-dedicated our commitments to faculty, student and staff diversity and inclusion across dental education and programming practices and policies for LGBTQ and allies representation.

The last half of the 1990s positioned our involvement in the then IOM/NAS project to look at the future of dental education, Dental Education at the Crossroads: Challenges and Change (Institute of Medicine, 1995). It was an extraordinary privilege to write the curriculum history, “Issues in Dental Curriculum Development and Change” (JDE, January 1995). While the data in the full IOM Report has changed, the wisdom of its recommendations remain.