Learner Perspectives: Dental student Erik Tamberg on student leadership

Erik Tamberg, BMSc’15, Dentistry Class of 2021, believes students can have a big impact on their campus and community, as champions for positive change. During his time in dental school, he has volunteered with community outreach initiatives, participated in summer research projects and serves in student government, most recently as President of the University of Western Ontario Dental Student Society (UWODSS).

Why did you get involved in student leadership?

I started to get involved with various organizations in my first year of dental school because I wanted to be engaged with the tight-knit community I knew existed at Schulich Dentistry. As I became more involved, I saw enormous opportunity for growth at the institution. What influenced me to take on leadership roles was seeing senior dental students dedicating their time and effort to selflessly improve the School for everyone. Inspired to do the same, I thought the best way to facilitate the changes I envisioned was to take initiative and spearhead them myself.

What keeps me motivated to advocate for change is knowing that any positive impact I can make will help generations of dental students to come. I have always been a firm believer that Schulich Dentistry’s strongest asset is its students. 

How do student leaders contribute to academic and campus life?

Student leaders affect and influence all aspects of life at Schulich Dentistry. Academically, the UWODSS mentorship program, the Student Professionalism and Ethics Association (SPEA), and other organizations provide guidance on how to succeed in class and support students in developing a healthy work/life balance. Collectively, they provide tips on how to study, navigate clinic, improve in with procedures, and more. Other organizations, including UWODSS and the Dental Entrepreneurship Business and Innovation (DEBI) group, which is new this year, provide supplemental programming through student initiatives to enrich the existing didactic curriculum. For instance, this year during the clinic shutdown in January, UWODSS enlisted the help of adjunct clinical professors to lecture third- and fourth-year students on advanced topics in dentistry.

In a normal year, student leaders also greatly impact campus life through regularly scheduled programming. UWODSS usually holds monthly School-wide events and year-end formals with club events happening alongside them. For obvious reasons, this year has been challenging and we have not able to provide our regular programming due to shutdowns and restrictions. That being said, UWODSS still set forward its best effort to support students by holding events like the lecture series and ‘snack days’ where study snacks were provided in a socially distanced setting to students before exam periods.

As a student leader, what do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?

This past year so much has happened, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single thing. Looking at the bigger picture, my greatest accomplishment has been my team’s ongoing ability to navigate the pandemic and our resilience in doing so. Because Schulich Dentistry deals with both didactic teaching and clinical care, multiple layers of governing bodies are involved. Staff and students had to pivot constantly with shifting COVID-19 guidelines and have had to make difficult short-notice decisions on a weekly if not daily basis. Meeting expectations has been challenging, but I am grateful to have been supported by an amazing team of administrative staff and student leaders who worked together, so students could continue to learn and provide essential care to the London community.  

Although a great deal of my time was dedicated to resolving clinical and didactic concerns throughout the pandemic, another accomplishment that stands out for me is bringing UWODSS into the 21st century in terms of technology and adapting to new demands. For instance, this year, we created a new UWODSS website which includes functionality such as centralized email addresses for ease of communication, a private job listings board for dental students, a consolidated calendar and more.

What other campus or community activities are you involved in?

Early on in my dental school career, I volunteered with DOCS Kids and Brush-a-mania to educate children about the importance of oral health care and how to properly take care of their teeth. I was also involved with establishing the UWODSS Mentorship Program in its inaugural year. As I progressed through my education, I began to diversify my experiences by becoming more involved with different initiatives including the ODA Cup, representing Schulich Dentistry on the University Student Council (USC), and speaking at Dentistry’s Interview Weekend. As a participant in the Summer Dentistry Research Opportunity Program (SDROP), I was also given the opportunity to present at Schulich Dentistry’s Research Day and London Health Research Day, amongst the best and brightest at Western.

Outside of dental school, I spend my free time focussing on my hobbies of photography and travelling. 

What’s next for you after graduation this spring?

After graduating, I’m continuing my clinical training in hospital-based dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA’s general practice residency program has a strong focus on surgery, sedation, endodontics, and treating patients with special needs. These are all areas I’m interested in, so I’m excited for what the future holds.