From student to teacher

Photograph of Dr. Trevor Thang looking at an xray

By Max Martin, MMJC’19

It’s back to school for Dr. Trevor Thang.

Although he just graduated from a master’s program at the University of Toronto in the fall of 2019, the oral radiologist made a quick turnaround back to the classroom – this time not to learn, but to teach.

Dr. Thang joined Schulich Dentistry as an Assistant Professor and Chair of Oral Medicine & Radiology. As the only oral and maxillofacial radiologist at the School, he’s not only responsible for the curriculum, but also running the oral radiology clinic and acting as the faculty radiation protection officer.

He’s hoping to draw on his recent experiences as a student to craft the best educational experience possible for his learners.

“I was a student not too long ago, so I can empathize a lot with the student experience,” Dr. Thang said. “I remember the good lectures and I remember the bad lectures. These are all things I’ve really tried to learn from.”

His main focus is on creating a learning environment that allows students to excel as they’re taught how to read dental x-rays. To do this, he creates and shares as many resources as possible on the course OWL websites, and also promotes active engagement and participation during lectures.

Dr. Thang has implemented a new software called PollEverywhere™, which allows him to get anonymous, real-time feedback from students during the lecture. Students can respond to image-based questions, multiple choice, or open-ended questions on their phone or computer, providing checkpoints in their learning.

“If there is a crucial point they are not understanding, it allows me to address it right in that moment,” Dr. Thang explained.

“All I can do is create the right environment for someone to be inspired and passionate. I can lecture for hours, but if a student isn’t engaged or they don’t understand why it is important, there’s no way they can learn.”

But teaching wasn’t always Dr. Thang’s desired career path, as he considered options in both academia and private practice as an oral radiologist. While lecturing during his graduate studies, Thang realized he had a knack for education.

“That’s when I started to recognize that I did have a talent, and perhaps the patience, to teach,” he said. “It was something that I got a lot of pride out of, especially seeing my students learn and succeed. It really did make me feel like I was contributing to something bigger and beyond myself.”

Although oral radiology is a complex field, Dr. Thang’s teaching approach is focusing on what general dentists will need to know, and helping students understand when they will need to refer out abnormalities to a specialist.

“I have to keep reminding my students that you have to go back to the basics sometimes,” he said. “I’m seeing students trying to run before they can walk. Once you learn how to walk, run as far and as a fast as you want. Nailing the fundamentals, it’s so important.”

Dr. Thang felt drawn to teaching in London because he studied medical biophysics at Western for three years before being accepted to Dentistry school at the University of Toronto.

“The undergraduate degree here really inspired my love for medical imaging and medical physics, and I think that’s part of what hooked me into oral radiology,” he said.

As he continues to settle into the new role, he’s also looking forward to expanding his research programs and collaborating with fellow clinicians at the School.

“I already feel like I’m part of a team and a bigger organization,” Dr. Thang said. “It’s been very positive; everyone has been very kind.”

But for now, Dr. Thang’s focus is on giving Schulich Dentistry students the best learning experience possible and building a reputation for the department.

“Ultimately, what I want is for oral radiology at Schulich to be a well respected department and for our students to recognize that it is a strength of theirs when they go out to practice.”