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Launching the Leadership Strand

By Louise Knott Ahern

When Dan Hammer, Class of 2011, envisions his career, he sees a lot more than a nine-to-five dental practice. He sees himself as a leader who motivates others in his profession, his community and in the ever-changing world of health care while providing the best care for his patients. In fact, that’s one of the reasons he chose to attend the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. The school prides itself on developing people first and dentists second.

“I chose Pacific first and foremost because of its humanistic model of education,” said Hammer, Associated Student Body president. “The amount of camaraderie and collaboration that goes on here is unparalleled.” This makes him the perfect student to usher in a new extracurricular program to the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s world-renowned curriculum.

Launched last fall by Hammer and fellow Class of 2012 students Alan Chee and Jonathan Gluck, the new Dugoni Practical Leadership Initiative (DPLI) is an enrichment program that offers students a way to learn and practice the lifelong skills that will help them become effective leaders. Featuring a mix of workshops and hands-on learning opportunities, the program is designed to foster leadership skills in three key areas: as individuals, as members of a team and in their communities.

The program developed in part as an offshoot of research by Hammer and faculty mentor, Dr. Nader Nadershahi ’94, executive associate dean, which found that students and faculty alike would support opportunities to promote the importance of personal leadership. “This is innate in the culture of our dental school and our humanistic approach,” Hammer said. “DPLI’s catch phrase is, ‘As a dentist, you have no choice but to be a leader.’ So to be a respected health care professional, you have to step up.”

How It Works

The program features four components, all designed to not only create leadership skills that students can build on throughout life but which they can also put to use immediately. “Our goal is that after every presentation, they can take something away that will translate into daily life immediately,” Hammer said. “They may hear something about motivating a team or delivering a treatment plan, and we hope our juniors and seniors will go to clinic the next day and use those tips.”

The program’s four components are:

  1. Workshops: Students will attend six workshops over six months focused on each of the three leadership themes. Workshops challenge students to identify their own leadership personalities, explore effective management techniques for running a successful dental practice, learn how to motivate a team and discover ways to network as a young professional.
  2. Experience Leadership Mentorship Program: Five students will be paired with a faculty member or Dugoni School of Dentistry alumni mentor based on their areas of interest. Organizers hope this will give students an inside view of the differing fields of dentistry and broaden their networking horizons.
  3. Distinguished Speaker Series: Three speaker series programs will allow students who are not participating in the leadership curriculum to grow as leaders. Experts and dental practitioners will offer valuable insights on how to be leaders in both their personal and professional lives.
  4. Leadership in Action Practicum: Students will work in groups to research and execute real projects. The first: students will present to the Dean’s Cabinet on the newly
    released feasibility report from Kahler Slater architects regarding student response to early plans for a new dental school building.

How It Fits

For many Dugoni School of Dentistry students and faculty members, the program is a logical and natural fit with the school’s history and mission. “Leadership, historically, has been an implicit part of our curriculum,” said Dr. Cindy Lyon ’86, chair of the Department of Dental Practice. “Given that our vision statement—leading the improvement of health by advancing oral health—is dependent on great leadership abilities, I think nothing could be better aligned with Pacific’s mission than this personalized program.”

But the program is also part of a broader curriculum initiative. The dental school recently began rolling out the Helix Curriculum—an effort to infuse every aspect of a student’s training with both the technical skills to succeed as a dentist and the personal skills to interact with patients, co-workers and peers.

“Critical thinking, reflection and lifelong learning are important parts of this curriculum,” Lyon said. “The DPLI gives students new tools to assess their personal strengths and weaknesses as leaders, explore the dynamics of how groups interact and examine how they can best influence and effect change.”

The effort—including the leadership initiative—recently helped earn the Dugoni School of Dentistry the prestigious Gies Award for Outstanding Vision for an Academic Dental Institution. Awarded by the ADEAGies Foundation, the award is named after dental education pioneer William J. Gies, PhD, and recognizes individuals and organizations for contributions to global oral health and education initiatives. The winners exemplify dedication to the highest standards of vision, innovation and achievement in dental education, research and leadership.

How It Will Help

The Dugoni School of Dentistry already stands out among dental schools for its personalized approach to education. Third-year students, for example, are asked to prepare a full business plan that would prepare them to launch a successful dental practice. Lyon and Hammer said the Dugoni Practical Leadership Initiative expands that approach, giving students a way to build a life plan, not just a business plan.

“Mission statements calling for us to actualize individual potential and develop and promote policies addressing the needs of society,” Lyon said, “really inspire us all to roll up our sleeves and contribute to the world in a meaningful way.”

Louise Knott Ahern of Williamston, Michigan, is a freelance writer, writing coach and former editor at University of Redlands.