Vice Dean's Message

Photograph of Dr. Bertha Garcia

Welcome to the 2021 issue of The Bridge – Schulich Dentistry’s digital alumni magazine. As we turn the page on 2020, our teams across Dentistry remain strong, engaged and positive. The past year presented numerous challenges to our teams, but they have all responded positively and collaboratively. Things at our School are going very well, much better than perhaps any of us would have expected when the pandemic started.

I see a bright future for Dentistry. We are already on the map in so many ways and since the pandemic, we have been leading many dental education initiatives across the country. We have made positive changes during the past year and we are at the beginning of this journey of change. There is a lot more to come and I am hopeful that all our faculty, staff and students, as well as you, our alumni, continue to be engaged. Your voices are crucial to our decision-making.

As you read the magazine, you will have the opportunity to meet Drs. Noha Gomaa and Abbas Jessani, two of the 14 new faculty members we have hired since mid-2019.

The scale of this recruitment effort has been an important focus for us and is critical to our moving forward in a strong way.

You will also learn about how our teams formed an Education Task Force that was able to transform a lot of teaching material into an asynchronous, independent, virtual learning model. This also created more opportunities for interactive teaching,  quizzes and synchronous interactions. I also think that, because their classroom is now at home, our students have become much more independent in their learning – which can only help them as they progress throughout their careers.

As one team focused on virtual learning, another was making changes to our clinical model. I’ve learned from our teams that these changes have led to greater clinical experiences for our students and their achievement of milestones sooner than in past years. We’ve also found more innovative ways to make up for reduced capacity by using mannequins in the clinic. This has given our students the opportunity to practice between patients and continues to enhance their hand skills.

Caitlin Loo, Dentistry Class of 2022 and Maher Alazzam, Dentistry Class of 2021, are just two of our outstanding students who have remained resilient throughout the past year. Leaders and mentors in their own right, they have great stories to share and I know you will enjoy meeting them in the magazine.

As we continue to focus on our students and clinic patients at the School, many of you have been engaged in efforts to support your patients, develop innovative approaches to dental care and support disadvantaged communities. Drs. Christos Papadopolous, MCID’17, Michael Shimizu and Anand Soni, DDS’98, have shared their stories with us this year.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions continue to impact how we teach and deliver care, our teams are remaining focused on the future.

Looking ahead, one of the most significant and exciting projects that we are working on in education is an experiential learning pilot for fourth-year students. We are hoping to create a distributed education program in the local and regional community where our students will be working with community dentists.

We’ve received great interest from you – our alumni, as well as other dentists from as far away as Windsor, and we are excited to get a pilot in place for the spring of 2021. I believe that a program such as this one will offer an important opportunity for transition to practice before graduation for our students. Once we have completed the pilot, I will be working with our teams to make this an official part of our curriculum. Dr. Jessani has agreed to be the leader of this project.

We will also be working on growing our graduate programs. We have very strong faculty leadership in a variety of specialties, giving us a strong foundation to expand our educational offerings.

Our research methodology and efforts are also continuing to evolve. New faculty hires have brought with them research interests, methodology and strength in population and public health, marginalized communities and oral health, the use of clinical trials for the management of oral health, virtual reality enhanced education and artificial intelligence. These areas complement our basic science research and are allowing us to grow our research enterprise and put ourselves on the map in a new realm.

Also, we are in the midst of planning our first lecture for the Dr. Marilyn MacLoghlin Speaker Series for Schulich Women in Dentistry, taking place on March 10, 2021. Dr. Elham Emami, Dean of Dentistry, McGill University, will be the inaugural speaker. You can learn more about the event and register online.

In closing, I want to acknowledge the commitment of Dentistry’s faculty, staff and students who have remained positive and committed despite the many challenges the past year has presented.

I hope that you enjoy this year’s issue of The Bridge, and I look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming events.

Dr. Bertha Garcia
Vice Dean & Director
Schulich Dentistry