Sinking her teeth into all aspects of academia

Photograph of Dr. Cecilia Dong standing in a hallway

By Crystal Mackay, MA ‘05

Dr. Cecilia Dong arrived on Western University’s campus in August excited by the opportunities that lay before her and she hasn’t wasted any time getting started.

As a prosthodontist and Assistant Professor at Schulich Dentistry, Dr. Dong has hit the ground running in all aspects of academia: research, teaching and forming new collaborations.

“What great colleagues I have here,” said Dr. Dong. “We have so much talent, and we’re like-minded and are willing to collaborate. That’s what the University environment should be about.”

On the education front, she has a full teaching load and spends much of her time interacting with students from first year through to fourth year. She’s also been invited to be the Dentistry Lead for Interprofessional Education (IPE), a role she sees as a vital part of ensuring quality care for future patients. She is beginning by getting a grasp on the areas in the curriculum where IPE already exists and then finding ways to enhance and expand on that.

“If we can incorporate IPE into the curriculum, so the students form these networks with other health professionals through interprofessional education, then when they graduate they are more likely to practise that way,” she said. IPE Day on March 9, 2020 is an annual IPE activity that brings together students from various health care professions early on in their programs at Western University, Brescia and King’s University Colleges, and the University of Waterloo.

As a prosthodontist who often works with older adults, she sees this population as a prime example of the importance of different health care specialists working together to ensure the best care. Because older adults often have more complex medical histories and multiple comorbidities, Dr. Dong sees opportunities to incorporate medical students, pharmacy students and other allied health professionals into the learning space for these patients.

That knowledge has led her to pursue a research project in collaboration with Dr. Shawn Steele, Assistant Professor at Schulich Dentistry, who is also City-wide Chief of Dentistry for London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Lead for geriatric and special needs dental services at Parkwood Institute and Dr. Denise Connelly, IPE Lead and Associate Dean Graduate and Postdoc Studies Faculty of Health Sciences.

The research is aimed at assessing the perceived role of interprofessional education in providing care to older adults. A connection with Dr. Kevin Fung, the Chair/Chief of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, has also been made to work towards advancing interprofessional education at Western University.

Dr. Dong is also digging in to two other research projects. One is focused on the oral health status and quality of life for patients with head and neck cancer, an area of research that she began during her previous academic appointment at the University of Manitoba, where she taught for 16 years before coming to London and Schulich Dentistry.

The other research area is in education research and she is also establishing connections with colleagues at CERI (Centre for Education Research & Innovation).

“I consider myself a dental educator, a researcher and a clinician. So, dental education and education research are really important to me,” she said. “And I see there are lots of opportunities at Schulich Dentistry for collaboration in research, in teaching, and in service.”

To help promote and further those collaborations, she’s been working with her female faculty colleagues to establish the first Schulich Women in Dentistry (SWID) group. The aim is to support women in dentistry so they can reach their full potential in education, leadership, and research roles while fostering collegiality and collaboration among disciplines. The group has already had their first meeting, and are excited to plan events for the coming year.

Part of that will include a faculty mentorship program that will be piloted with the SWID group and male colleagues who joined Schulich Dentistry in 2019, with plans to expand to include additional full-time Dentistry faculty members across the School.

With all of these new initiatives keeping her busy, Dr. Dong remains passionate about teaching and committed to her connection with students.

“It’s important that students have the guidance so that they understand not just what they are doing, but why they are doing it,” she said. “My focus is to help the students learn and in turn to help patients get high quality care. And that’s what’s really important to me.”