Feature: A humbling, energizing and empowering experience

Dr. Bertha GarciaHumbling. Energizing. Empowering.

These are the three words that first come to mind for Dr. Bertha Garcia as she reflects on her term serving as the Acting Vice Dean and Director of Dentistry.

“This experience was really humbling, as I had so much to learn and I had so much support and help from the teams in Dentistry; I felt like a learner,” Dr. Garcia said. “At the same time, it was energizing. I was still receiving chemo and at times my energy was quite low.

But when I started this role, I felt a new energy. It was in large part because of the people. And the last three years have been very empowering. I felt it was important for me to educate the School, Western leadership and the community about the importance and great value provided by Dentistry.”

With her term coming to an end, we caught up with Dr. Garcia to hear about her reflections on the priorities, the achievements, the challenges and joys of the role, and learn more about her thoughts on the future of dentistry and her upcoming plans.

You were appointed to the role in June 2019, what were your priorities and what were the outcomes?

The most important priority was accreditation. There were some challenges for dentistry with accreditation and we were required to submit a report in August 2019. We were pleased to receive a letter a few months later from the accrediting body congratulating the team on how much work had been done. And by the following year, we received our full accreditation.

Another priority was recruitment. I would say this is a priority that took over my life – and it really only eased up now. I’m very happy that we were viewed as an attractive, visionary institution that is turning the corner, and we filled the positions. And you know, the opportunity to recruit people – has changed the face of our faculty from a diversity standpoint. There’s nothing more exciting as a leader than to create that kind of change.

How did the pandemic challenge the plans that were developed for Dentistry?

Overall, I would say that it created the need for us to become very nimble. We are 50 years old, and we have done things the same way for many years.

As a team, we came together and began talking overnight about how we could change things and move to virtual teaching, but also how we could incorporate non-patient encountered simulation expansion.

As you know, our clinics were closed for three months and we had students to graduate, and those students had procedures that they had to complete to graduate.

We asked ourselves the question: how do we give the skills to our graduating students without patients?

Well with the creativity of the faculty and the amazing support of the operations team, we created non-patient encounters to ensure students could develop their skills to complete their graduation requirements. I have to say, we were probably one of the very few schools that managed to graduate the students in the spring term.

While you served in the role as Vice Dean of Dentistry, you also served as a special advisor to the President on Anti-racism, how did the two roles intersect, and what were the challenges and benefits to be serving in two high profile roles at the same time?

This was an unexpected honour that was bestowed on me. When the President asked me to serve in this role, I did let him know that I am not an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) scholar, but I am a savvy administrator who knows a lot of people on campus and most programs, I am a good communicator. I think that is what he wanted.

I accepted the role because I am passionate about EDI.

The intersection was opportunistic. And it was very healthy and productive. I believe that serving in the role served as a foundation to do things within Dentistry that would bring more EDI at our School. I began to look at educating faculty, staff and students about EDI and created working groups.

Sometimes it was challenging to do both roles, not because they conflicted, but more because of the availability of time.

At the end of the day, it has allowed me to do things in Dentistry and look at what we do here – from systems to communication, human resources, education, etc.

What have been the greatest challenges during the past three years, the most surprising outcomes, and the most satisfying results?

I perceive it as a challenge leading a professional group that I don’t belong to. I’m not a dentist, and I don’t work in dental clinics. So, I had to learn how different and how similar dentistry is to medicine and I had to represent dentistry across the country, and of course, the others were dentists. I was very warmly welcomed. And when I started and I saw nothing but goodwill and collaboration.

Of course, COVID was also a challenge.

I saw hiring and the entire recruitment process as a joy. Building a team is very exciting.

I have also really enjoyed working with the students and faculty. It reaffirmed for me how much I love to mentor our faculty and how much I enjoy students, student leaders, and hearing their voices. It’s what gets me up in the morning.

Overall the most satisfying feeling is that I belong in dentistry. I have been recognized by the American College, which was extraordinary, and more recently named an honorary alumna of distinction of dentistry.

This is a new home. I never imagined this was what it would be like.

How would you describe the future of Dentistry at Western?


Our new incoming Vice Dean and Director, Dr. Carlos Quiñonez, is a visionary and is very passionate. I believe in five years, we will be on the map as one of the most unique dental schools in Canada, where our training is grounded in the principles of public health.

What’s next for you?

My commitment for the next year is to Dr. Shannon Venance, and I have offered to help with the 2023 accreditation process. I have also offered to support some of the EDI initiatives that are sprouting up within Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and the campus.

I am purple and proud. And I want to help and make a difference. So I will direct my energy to those areas that need it.