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Inside Dentistry

June 2008, Volume 4, Issue 6
Published by AEGIS Communications


Nova Southeastern University

Robert A. Uchin, DDS

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Interviewee:
Robert A. Uchin, DDS, Dean and Professor, College of Dental Medicine

Question No. 1

Inside Dentistry (ID): Describe the experience of being a relatively new entrant into the field of dental universities. What unique challenges and opportunities does this status bring with it?

Robert A. Uchin (RU): It’s hard to believe that Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine (NSU-CDM) is now in its 10th year. Obviously, this is a relatively short period of time to become recognized especially in light of the fact that the first dental school was established in 1840. With that understood, NSU-CDM indeed faces a unique set of both challenges and opportunities.

In some instances, the challenges we face become opportunities. For example, many of our clinical faculty are directly from the private practice sector and have had a steep learning curve to understand the academic process and become calibrated to ensure the clinical education of our students. However, the enthusiasm of our clinical faculty for both dentistry and teaching is infectious and our students receive a very high-quality clinical education, in large part, due to this vast experience. It is not unusual for seasoned faculty to become set in their ways and steadfast in their approach to dental education and administration. Change is not always received well in dental schools. Being a newer institution, we have had the freedom to design our administrative structure and curriculum with a contemporary approach to dentistry that suits the needs of both students and patients in the 21st century. The faculty has been an integral part of this process, which has served to unify them into a cohesive unit.

The largest challenge we face is that we have to constantly prove ourselves against the more established schools to which we are constantly compared. However, as we continue to contribute to organized dental education and the community, we will establish ourselves among our peer institutions and the patients we serve.

We have had the opportunity to establish affiliations with hospitals and other healthcare organizations that allow our students to meet first-hand the patient populations where the dental needs are greatest (and in large part unmet). The community has reached out to our College with great enthusiasm, which has reinforced our efforts on their behalf.

QUESTION NO. 2

ID: Exciting and innovative new research initiatives are taking place at dental schools nationwide. What is the most significant area of research at your school? What elements are you hoping to build upon most in the future?

RU: Research is one of the principal tenets of academic dentistry. Initially, our research efforts were limited because of lack of expertise, infrastructure, and affiliations. The College has and continues to seek research faculty to ensure our contribution to the profession in this regard.

Within the past 3 years, we have made great strides in this arena. We currently have three federally funded R01 grants related to biocompatibility testing methods and translational research in the areas of regenerative endodontics and special-needs populations in pediatric dentistry.

The President of NSU has established a yearly competition for seed money to research contemporary issues. While this competition is open to the entire campus, the Dental College has been very successful in competing with the other professional schools. This success has allowed for pilot projects in the investigation of bisphosphonate-associated osteonecrosis, the use of biologic membranes in wound healing, implant osteointegration and wound healing, surface biomaterials and dentifrices, and the use of alternate modalities of orofacial pain control.

QUESTION NO. 3

ID: As a newer dental institution, you’ve had a birds-eye view of the impact of technology on dental education. How much of an impact/role do these changes have at your school in particular?

RU: We have incorporated many of the latest educational technologies to some degree in our curriculum. NSU has an exemplary computer-based infrastructure. We have an online library containing close to 100 different databases that allows our students and faculty to investigate current clinical and biologic research topics. Full-text journal access is available, as well.

Each of our students is issued a laptop computer when they matriculate. We have incorporated a digital textbook library into our curriculum that enables our students to have an up-to-date digital library that will be available to them throughout their careers. The computers are also used by students during their clinical training for our centralized data management system. This also provides a teaching opportunity as the students can access their textbooks chairside to reinforce their clinical experience. A virtual-reality laboratory has aided our entering students to hasten hand/eye skill development in a simulated clinical environment.

QUESTION NO. 4

ID: How has your school been affected by the changing demographics in dentistry—from students, faculty, and administrators?

RU: NSU-CDM has a very large pool attracting over 4,000 applicants from all 50 states for a class of 105 spaces. This has allowed us to choose a diverse group of extremely qualified traditional and non-traditional students of many ethnicities to our college. This student population is carefully chosen to suit the needs of the profession and the needs of the populations in Florida. This is especially important as Florida is the third largest immigration entry portal in the country.

Similarly, our faculty and administration are reflective of the diverse community in which we live. We have an international dental graduate program that, among other benefits, is a source for the recruitment of junior faculty. This enables our faculty and administration to be representative of the students we teach and the patients we serve. Because of this culturally diverse community, our students and faculty live and work in a community that is familiar and comfortable for them and their families. Nova Southeastern University has established the University School that provides the children of our faculty a K-12 educational opportunity. Educationally, this School ranks among the highest in the state.

QUESTION NO. 5

ID: There are many challenges and opportunities in oral healthcare. What do you see as the most urgent need, and how does your school differentiate itself in efforts to respond to those challenges and opportunities?

RU: As already mentioned, South Florida is a major immigration port. Therefore, there are many unmet dental needs in terms of routine children’s dental care, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, geriatrics and special-needs children and adults comprising a diverse group of psychosocial and physical handicaps. NSU-CDM has a Special-Needs Program that constitutes the focus of our Advanced General Dentistry Program as well as allowing our D4 dental students to be exposed to this special kind of care.

To ensure the success of these programs, we have entered into affiliation agreements with state and local agencies not generally used in dental education. We are breaking ground with respect to policy, funding, payment schedules, and access to care.

Robert A. Uchin, DDS
Dean and Professor College of Dental Medicine
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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