ANCORA IMPARO BY RICK RADER, MD ■ EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Dr. Jack Dillenberg, the founding Dean of an innovative incubated dental school in Mesa, Arizona, insisted his students had to have demonstrated a commitment to community service and an appreciation for collaborative approaches to comprehensive dental healthcare.
“You don’t know Jack” is a popular expression that infers that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. “Jack” represents everyman, the common man and the average man. If you think any of those describe “Jack,” then “you don’t know Jack.”
Dr. Jack Dillenberg is the founding Dean of an innovative incubated dental school in Mesa, Arizona. The Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health (ASDOH) is the only dental school in the country that has “oral health” in its name. The school is a reflection of Dr. Dillenberg who, just 14 years ago (a nanosecond in the lifeline of a dental school), was given the proverbial napkin to doodle what a dental school could look like if you never heard, “you can’t do that.”
Jack hitched his impressive credentials, and a distinguished career in public health, health policy, underserved populations and healthcare innovation, to a plot of land in Arizona and challenged the naysayers.
Jack attracted and recruited a cadre of like-minded oral health innovators to form his faculty and administration. He then set out to attract a most unusual prototypical body of students. It was taken for granted that the ASDOH students would have to have the “goods”— bright, accomplished, studious, hands-on-learners. But Jack insisted they had to have demonstrated a commitment to community service and an appreciation for collaborative approaches to comprehensive dental healthcare.
In 14 years, the students have become disciples of Jack and the faculty. They have distinguished themselves in every nook and cranny in the dental universe. They consistently excel on national board exams, obtain the most prestigious residency slots and have the highest number of graduates devoting their careers to public health, underserved populations and patients with special needs. The students have a high allegiance to Jack and their professors and have become passionate ambassadors to the mission of ASDOH.
I was honored to be invited to preside over this year’s (Class of 2020) White Coat Ceremony. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first physician to officiate at the White Coat Ceremony at a dental school. Jack wanted me to serve as a reminder that dynamic collaborative healthcare is a true interdisciplinary endeavor.
Historically the White Coat Ceremony is conducted at the start of the students’ third year, the time when the student begins their clinical patient encounters. Jack (as in “you don’t know Jack”) appreciated that the metamorphosis of a clinician needs to begin on “day one,” and that is exactly when the White Coat Ceremony is scheduled.
To illustrate how ASDOH embodies the “right stuff;” the first lecture on the first day of classes is devoted to ethics. This isn’t done to get it “over with.” Jack and his colleagues teach ethics at every opportunity, at every applicable chairside case and over the course of the four-year curriculum. While most medical and dental schools teach ethics on a Friday afternoon (“Lunch and Learn” and a pizza), the ASDOH students are infused with ethical thinking, ethical judgment and ethical practice.
I was thrilled to address the 75 new students, their families and the faculty on the first day they received their starched white coats. Following my remarks I announced that in a pocket of every white coat I had placed a gift, a keepsake to help them “stay the course” in the years to come. I hope the cards become yellow, frayed, dog-eared, soiled and creased from repeated readings. I think with this class they will.
In his 87th year, the artist Michelangelo (1475 -1564) is believed to have said “Ancora imparo” (I am still learning). Hence, the name for my monthly observations and comments.