Teaching Honors Program Leads National Effort
Program Increases Awareness of, Participation in Academic Careers
By Catherine Duncan
In 2006, the School of Dentistry at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio fully committed to the national effort within the education community to increase students’ awareness of the academic arm of the dental profession.
Bill Hendricson, M.S., assistant dean of education and faculty development in the dental school, joined the School of Dentistry in that year and became director of the Teaching Honors Program (THP) and the Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program.
“In our first year, we had one student participating in the Teaching Honors Program. This year we will have our largest number so far—40 seniors are on track to graduate with the special academic designation they receive for participating in the four-year program. These students graduate with a D.D.S. with Distinction in Dental Education,” Hendricson explained. Approximately half of all dental students participate in the voluntary program.
The program strives to increase students’ awareness of career options in teaching, scholarship and academic administration. School of Dentistry students gain teaching and educational planning experiences while learning about academic careers.
National surveys show that only 1 percent of dental students report exposure to teaching careers and less than 1 percent enter the academics field before age 45, he said. “With 40 percent of current dental faculty retiring within 10 years, there is a great need for dental educators,” he said.
U.S. dental schools have a shortage of faculty age 35 to 45. Dental school faculty frequently consists of retired practitioners age 55 or older who teach for approximately 10 years, Hendricson added. “We need faculty members to join earlier, stay for 25 years to provide continuity, and grow in their careers in concert with the school.”
Within the THP, five to 10 students each year participate in the Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program, a 12-month program in collaboration with the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). Students work with faculty mentors on educational research projects, teaching activities and other assignments.
The five 2015 – 2016 student fellows and their faculty mentors completed a study on “Does a Teaching Honors Program in a Dental School Influence Alumni to Pursue Academic Careers?” and presented their findings at the 2016 ADEA meeting, the UT Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., Academy of Health Science Education annual conference and at other conferences. The project studied the Teaching Honors Program at the Health Science Center.
The project surveyed the program’s roughly 150 graduates for the past 10 years and found that 15 percent are already in the teaching profession.
“Our 15 percent is much higher than the national average. Our graduates are teaching in dental schools throughout the United States, and we have several at this school. Overall, a half of 1 percent of dental graduates go into teaching in the first 10 years. The ultimate outcome of the Teaching Honors Program is attracting graduates to teaching. We appear to be doing that with success,” he said.
The Teaching Honors Program receives funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The $2.5 million federal grant is for faculty development in general, pediatric and public health dentistry and dental hygiene. The Dental School Dean’s Office also provides substantial resources for the program.
Hendricson said the federal funding has allowed students to travel to conferences to present their findings on education research. He said alumni of the dental school have been crucial in financially supporting the teaching program with awards and scholarships.
Benefiting all students
Another benefit of the THP is the teaching provided to students by program participants. Students participating in the program must take at least six additional selective courses related to teaching, scholarship and academic careers. Students in the program provide substantial instruction for peers in the classroom, preclinical labs and the clinic.
“By the time the students are in their third year, they serve as tutors and teaching assistants to help first- and second-year students with preclinical lab assignments. Many basic science courses also have THP students serving as tutors and teaching assistants. THP students are also the primary instructors for the school’s extensive pre-matriculation program in the summer, known as LEAD.”
“In their fourth year, they do mainstream teaching with faculty supervision. They serve as clinical instructors in a teaching rotation called ‘Faculty for a Day,’ and they function as teaching assistants for first-years in the preclinical simulation lab. If they get hired at a dental school to teach, we hope these experiences will prepare them for likely teaching roles,” Hendricson said.
Beatriz Fortanely, fourth-year dental student, said she was told about the Teaching Honors Program at her interview during the application process. A former ninth-grade biology teacher, Fortanely found the teaching program an added bonus to San Antonio’s dental school.
“The possibility to continue to be involved in teaching in some capacity was something I was very interested in, and I also had considered becoming a dental school faculty member in the future. Exploring this option with THP seemed a perfect fit,” she said.
Fortanely said she has benefitted from the program by being able to further explore her teaching abilities and by transferring her current educational knowledge to a new topic—dentistry. “It also has been enjoyable to learn about the current state of dental education by attending the annual ADEA conferences in Boston and Denver,” she added.
Mai Luk, D.D.S., a May 2016 graduate who earned the education distinction and was an academic careers fellow, said the program allowed her the opportunity to shadow and interview faculty members and administrators to learn about an educational career.
“I had always liked teaching and mentoring before I started dental school. This program allowed me to continue to mentor and teach my peers. Other benefits include great networking opportunities with faculty and students, opportunities to travel to educational meetings, and obtaining teaching skills during the program seminars,” she said.
Dr. Luk, who is now a first-year resident in the school’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry, said she is grateful her dental school taught her about dental education, a specialty that many schools do not emphasize. “For me, having the added ‘Distinction in Dental Education’ after my degree reminds me of the opportunity to pursue a career in dental education,” Dr. Luk added.
With a record 40 fourth-year students on track to earn the special designation in May 2017, the Teaching Honors Program continues to lead the country in developing the next generation of dental educators—which is paramount to the future of the dental industry.