Being the change

Dr. Karin Van Ryswyk

Passionate and proud, Dr. Karin Van Ryswyk is helping to lead the way on a renewal for Schulich Dentistry

Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

Stepping off the boat onto the dock at her cottage, Dr. Karin Van Ryswyk, DDS’86, feels immediately refreshed. For a few days she leaves behind her dental practice, teaching responsibilities, Dental Renewal Committee meetings and strategic plan project.

“It’s my little piece of heaven,” she said, referring to the family cottage in Honey Harbour. For Dr. Van Ryswyk, it’s the perfect haven to de-stress and rejuvenate from a schedule that takes her back and forth across the city from her more than 2,400 patients, to the clinic on campus teaching third- and fourth-year students, and to the boardroom table at Schulich Dentistry.

In private practice since 1989, Dr. Van Ryswyk has been a part-time faculty member since graduation, only taking a hiatus from the role when her children were young.

She loves the opportunity to interact with the students, which she describes as a give-and-take relationship. “I have knowledge to pass on,” said Dr. Van Ryswyk. “But the students also keep me on my toes with their questions, the techniques they may have learned from other faculty and the newest didactic material.”

The arrival of an unexpected email to Dr. Van Ryswyk’s inbox in the fall of 2014 changed her involvement with the School forever. “I received a note from the Dean’s Office,” she said. “The email was an invitation to have a conversation about becoming involved with the Dental Renewal Committee.”

The Committee was struck by Dr. Michael J. Strong, dean, and charged with defining and initiating the renewal process, which would guide Schulich Dentistry through its leadership change. It was also charged with ensuring continuity and re-engagement of staff, faculty, students and patients, while overseeing the renewal of the dental school and ensuring accreditation standards are met.

Encouraged by her husband to accept the offer, Dr. Van Ryswyk agreed to join the Committee. “To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure what I was signing up for,” she said with a laugh. “But I went to the first meeting and started to understand where the Dean wanted to take things. I could really see his vision.” That began what has turned into a multi-year commitment, with bi-weekly meetings held throughout the academic year.

It was Dr. Van Ryswyk’s belief that change was needed at the School that really inspired her involvement with the Committee. A proud alumnus, she wanted to be part of the change. And she knew her past experience as the President of the London & District Dental Society and her involvement with the National Dental Examining Board would help as she navigated through the committee work.

“This is an exciting time to be at the School,” said Dr. Van Ryswyk. “There is so much possibility.” Her membership on the Dental Renewal Committee has led to leadership of a project team for Dentistry’s strategic plan. She is chairing a team comprised of faculty, staff and students, that is focused on clinical dental education. The team’s mandate is to re-engineer the clinical education, operational, teaching and practice management processes.

In the end, they want to create a clinic model that will provide students with the best clinical experience and education, as well as provide patients with comprehensive care in a timely manner.

“I believe we can do this. We can be one of the best dental schools in North America—it’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s going to happen.”
—Dr. Karin Van Ryswyk, DDS’86

Dr. Van Ryswyk admits the work can be overwhelming at times, but the challenges really pale in comparison to the enthusiastic project team that has no shortage of progressive ideas, and the opportunities that lay ahead. “It’s been a stimulating process,” she said.

After a long weekend away, Dr. Van Ryswyk returns to the work she loves at her practice. “I love making changes in peoples’ lives,” she said. “And when a patient turns to me with tears in their eyes thanking me for removing their pain or making them feel better about themselves, I know I’m in the right place doing the right thing.”

She’s equally passionate about the experiences she is having with her committee and strategic plan work. “I believe we can do this,” she said. “We can be one of the best dental schools in North America—it’s not going to happen overnight, but it’s going to happen.”