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What Have You Done To Support The Faculty You Graduated From?

January 1, 2007
by David Mock, DDS, PhD, FRCD(C)


In his February 2002 President’s Column in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, Dr. George Sweetnam coined the phrase “No professors, no profession.”1 He went on to enunciate that a profession is not just defined by the service it provides but by it’s contribution to the education of the public, its practitioners and its students, as well as its support of research to expand the body of knowledge, thus improving the quality of the service. This is especially important for a health profession such as dentistry. The faculties and schools of dentistry provide the Canadian dental profession the ability to fulfill these obligations, necessary to ensure its continued success for this century and the future beyond.

In recognition of the importance of education and research to the health of its citizens, the various levels of government provide some support for the university programs. This only leaves three sources for the remainder of the funds necessary to ensure the excellence of the dental programs and that is students via tuition and fees, public contributions and the support of the profession itself. Poor support from the profession speaks loudly for a lack of professionalism and deters public support or further funding from government agencies and industry.

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The Canadian dental schools have been labouring under the weight of underfunding for some time but have still managed to keep their programs at the leading edge internationally, so far. As a result their infrastructure has deterioratied resulting in considerable deferred maintenance and they have lagged behind in expansion or modernization. The time has come for these institutions to deal with these issues or place the quality of their programs at risk. If we don’t move forward, we will fall behind.

As well, it has become increasingly more difficult to attract and retain the best teachers and scientists in competition with the allure of better salaries and facilities elsewhere. The lack of an adequate pool of dental academics internationally, particularly clinical academics, has aggravated the situation further. Dentists and dental specialists who decide to devote their careers to academia accept the fact that their remuneration will not compare to that in private practice but often succumb to the attraction of higher salaries and better research facilities/funding in the United States. As Dr. Burton Conrad pointed out, “recruiting former practicing dentists out of retirement to become dental educators will not provide the framework needed to ensure the vitality and viability of our dental faculties.”2 The dental faculties certainly need experienced dentists amongst their part-time staff for clinical teaching but they do not replace the committed dental academic.

There are possible options to improve the fiscal situation of the dental faculties. When allowed by legislation, tuition and fees can be increased but, while this may help solve the immediate problem, it aggravates the long term situation. It is not unusual for students to graduate from dental programs with a debt exceeding $150,000. Adding the cost of graduate/postgraduate education further aggravates the debt such that graduates with the inclination to proceed into an academic career (or public service for that matter) often have second thoughts when considering this burden. It is fallacious to argue that the attraction of the fringe benefits that come with university salaries will compensate for the differential in incomes between dental academics and practitioners. As well, this suggests that the dental profession will not support the institutions that have allowed them to pursue their fulfilling careers and provided them with a comfortable income, thus also reneging on their professional obligation.

Rather than transfer this professional responsibility to the most vulnerable population, our students, the profession must take ownership of their obligation. This implies a three pronged approach.

First, we must exert our influence in the halls of government to improve both base and capital funding. This influence can not only be exerted personally and by our voluntary or regulatory agencies, but also by our patient populations, some of whom are elected members themselves but all of whom are voters. We should ensure that they are aware of the need for support of dental schools and oral health research as well as the future detrimental impact of failing to meet these needs.

Second, we should encourage the dental industry to directly support those institutions that provide their present and future customers. It’s a short term expense with a long term gain as well as a social obligation. In addition, we should support those companies that support our profession.

Finally, the dental professionals must provide the model and directly support the dental schools themselves. It is not enough to pass this obligation on to government or industry without stepping up to the line first ourselves. It is our professional obligation to ensure the viability of the institutions that have provided us with our careers, that supply the continuity of our profession and that, through their research, improve the oral health of our nation.

REFERENCES

1.Sweetnam, G. No professors, no profession. JCDA 68:85, 2002.

2.Burton, C. Sustaining our profession. JCDA 67: 365, 2001.

Dr. David Mock is Professor & Dean, University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry.


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