Message from the Herman Robert Fox Dean

Charles N. Bertolami,DDS, DMedSc
Herman Robert Fox Dean

Message from the Herman Robert Fox Dean

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words “man or woman of science”? If you Google the phrase, the first thing that pops up is a biographical reference on North American scientists entitled American Men and Women of Science, which lists as the criterion for eligibility that one be a scientist. But in this issue of Global Health Nexus, which focuses on the theme “Educating Men and Women of Science,” we have a different take on the phrase.

Not long ago, I sent an e-mail message to everyone at the NYU Colleges of Dentistry and Nursing, in which I described what I mean by a “man or woman of science.” An excerpt from that message reads as follows:

A man or woman of science is simply a sophisticated consumer of research. Not every graduate has to become a scientist, in the sense of becoming a producer of new knowledge; but a learned profession does require that every graduate be able to think for herself or himself, be an intelligent user of research, able to critique it, and comfortable with the structure and syntax of modern biomedical science. Only through this process can graduates immunize themselves against fads, junk science, unsubstantiated conjecture, and the pervasive, self-declared, self-normed claim of excellence so characteristic of our times.

The practitioner as a consumer of research is an idea I adopted from the work of Tony Iacopino, one of the contributors to this issue of Nexus. My objective was to convey the importance of nurturing in dental students an in-depth appreciation for science, for scientific methodology, and for comprehending what does and does not constitute valid scientific evidence. While perhaps less than one percent of dental students will become researchers, I am convinced that a foundational attribute for dentists as members of a learned profession must be sheer intellectual curiosity -- a trait as important for the clinician as for the scientist. That improved patient care results from technical advances made possible through research is not seriously disputed by anyone. What is less apparent, however, is the role for research in the education of dentists and the broader life of dental schools.

Is the calling to be an outstanding clinician really any different from the calling to be an outstanding scientist? The passion to know, intellectual curiosity, is common to both. In the case of the practitioner, that need serves the interest of the individual patient. For the biomedical scientist, that need serves the interest of all patients. The kind of curiosity that demands and that says, “I must know” and that drives all scientific inquiry is, at its root, identical to the kind of curiosity that underlies clinical practice at its best. A commitment to such a level of excellence is the premise on which care for patients is supposed to be based, assuming the vehicle for such care is a learned profession, as opposed to a trade or a craft. Fundamental to a learned profession is curiosity -- curiosity in the service of scholarship leading, in turn, to scholarship in the service of humanity, and ultimately to scholarship in the service of an individual human being.

An education colored by research is one way of achieving the intellectual rigor necessary for the professional. The key is cultivating in students a taste for complexity, for problems, and for problem solving. All dental schools without exception need to help students acquire this taste. In doing so, they will generate a few scientists; but more important, they will enable every graduate to become a man or woman of science. Only by becoming a person of science is there any hope that the practitioner will be able to acquire and assimilate new knowledge and adapt to the changes in practice and in the profession that the future requires.

In this issue of Global Health Nexus, we are privileged to bring you the perspectives of a group of leading dental educators, researchers, and clinicians who are especially well qualified to discuss the topic “men and women of science.” They include the aforementioned Dr. A. M. (Tony) Iacopino, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Manitoba; Dr. Martha J. Somerman, Dean of the University of Washington School of Dentistry; Dr. David Wong, Associate Dean for Research at the UCLA School of Dentistry; Dr. N. Karl Haden, Founder and President of the Academy for Academic Leadership, and Mr. William D. Hendricson, Associate Editor of the Journal of Dental Education; Dr. Judith Haber, The Ursula Springer Leadership Professor in Nursing and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at NYUCN; Dr. Joan A. Phelan, Professor and Chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Radiology, & Medicine; Dr. Mark S. Wolff, Associate Dean for Predoctoral Clinical Education; and Dr. Ralph V. Katz, Professor and Chair of Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion, all of NYUCD.

This issue of Global Health Nexus also features the most expansive coverage to date of NYUCD’s international outreach efforts. NYUCD has been “going global” for over a decade, offering the world’s most extensive continuing education programs for international dentists and outreach to some of the most medically underserved areas on earth. More recently, NYUCD has added new dimensions to its international activities, in keeping with NYU’s ambition to develop a new model for a worldwide research university -- a “global network university” -- with campuses throughout the world. This issue of Nexus offers an array of articles focusing on NYUCD’s activities in support of NYU’s global commitment. In addition, this issue of Nexus features, for the first time, several URLs to videos, which provide a more in-depth look at the stories you’ve just read.

I’m also pleased to report that, for the third year in a row, NYUCD has moved up a notch in federal funding. NYUCD now ranks fourth in the nation among dental schools receiving funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). NYUCD’s advancement to this point is due to all faculty -- clinicians as well as researchers -- who have worked to create a warm and collegial collaborative environment that values creativity and the generation of new knowledge.

I hope you will take pride in this and all the examples of NYUCD’s growing momentum that you’ll find in the following pages.