Leaders in Dental Education - Dr. Sharon Turner, Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry

Osmosis Team
Jun 15, 2015

Dr. Sharon P. Turner is Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry and Professor in the Department of Oral Health Practice. Dr. Turner received her dental degree from the University of North Carolina and received her juris doctor degree magna cum laude from the North Carolina Central University. Following graduation from dental school, she completed a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in Craniofacial Pain Mechanisms and Controls sponsored by the National Institutes of Health at UNC in Chapel Hill.

In 2003 she accepted her current position at the University of Kentucky, becoming the only woman to ever have been dean at more than one dental school. She was a Fellow in the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program and was the first dentist to complete this competitive fellowship.

Turner has received numerous honors and awards, including the the Award of Excellence from the Society for Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine for mentoring women in academic dentistry and was selected for the prestigious American Council of Education Fellowship.

How did you decide on a career in Dentistry?
I began to have an interest in a health care career during my undergraduate school days. I knew also that I wanted to get married and have children, and I was concerned about balancing work and family life. I did a lot of craft work as a teenage- needle work and small toll painting, so I thought that I should have good psychomotor skills as well as a strong interest in a health career. Our family dentist also had a very large influence on my career choice. Our families attended the same church and vacationed together in the summer. I became fascinated with dentistry through him and his absolute passion for the profession.

What does an "average" day look like for you?
There may not be such a thing as an average day! The most consistent thing is that the day is

Long. I often have meetings beginning at 7:00 AM or 5:00 PM. I rarely arrive at home before 7:00 PM on evenings when I do not have a work related activity. I average two evenings per week in work related activities ranging from Alumni Association Board Meetings to Development Council Meetings to dental society meetings to university functions.

I have standing meetings with my four associate deans every week to provide guidance on the four major areas of the College’s administration- educational programs, research, clinical operations, and general administrative matters such as budget, policy development, employee performance evaluation, facility planning and renovations, and regulatory compliance oversight. I also meet with other faculty or administrators as requested. I interview all candidates for faculty positions and for high level staff positions.

I meet with students who have had academic or behavioral sanctions imposed.

I treat patients in the clinic half a day per week.

I call on alumni to keep their relationship with the College strong and solicit donations for student scholarships, facility renovation or faculty development.

I respond to requests for information from the university central administration.

I review financial performance of the College.

I respond to complaints from students, faculty, staff, alumni and patients as needed.

I teach dental students in the core interprofessional healthcare curriculum, the practice management curriculum, and the radiology curriculum.

I answer e-mail (I receive about 300 e-mails per day) and return telephone calls.

My work week is generally about 80 hours per week- which sort of blows up the myth I held about balancing work and family life when I selected dentistry as a profession!

What are the top two or three things you would change about the way we train our dentists? How do you foresee these changes impacting Dental education?
I would like to see more emphasis on comprehensive patient care. Despite a lot of emphasis over the years to improve the way students have tended to look at a patients as “a denture” or “a crown,” I would like to see our team based approach to patient care in the teaching clinics greatly enhanced, even if it means that faculty perform some of the treatment as demonstrations for students. In order for a change like this to be fully implemented, we have to change the mind sets of our faculty who tend to build discipline based silos. We need more general dentists who are comfortable providing and teaching a wide range of treatment types.

I would like to see better calibration among faculty both within the school and outside the school where students are placed for externships. Despite much lip service over the years as to how well faculty are calibrated, there are still huge differences in what faculty accept as appropriate level work from students. In order to make this change, there has to be a serious concerted effort with enough time allocated to it to allow faculty to repeatedly evaluate multiple work samples and critique them and then compare critiques. This type of calibration will have to be repeated periodically to keep it from deteriorating over time. All faculty will have to be comfortable with giving students constructive criticism in a professional manner.

I would like to see faculty at dental schools display more flexibility and willingness to change. Often the only way change occurs is via necessity to respond to a crisis which is reactive rather than proactive. It is human nature to resist change however, so other than becoming more educated about global issues so as to understand the need for and benefit of change, it will be hard to get this change to occur.

How do you foresee Dental education changing in the next few years?
I believe that dental education is going to have to continue to be more nimble in responding to

Change. As state resources continue to be constrained, public schools will have to make the clinical operations more efficient and more productive. Clinics will have to be more customer service oriented and the time to completion of all of a patient’s planned treatment must be accelerated.

I also believe that our students must become better critical thinkers and must be able to honestly self-assess the quality of their work. They must be able to be completely open and honest with their patients at all times- even when there are unexpected, adverse outcomes.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Dentist today?
I believe that the current private practice model in dentistry may no longer be sustainable for most dentists. It is not a model that is inherently efficient, and it is being challenged by large group, corporate franchised practices which are able to purchase at volume discounts and use managers across multiple practices. In turn, rural areas of the country which are not attractive to such practices are likely to remain underserved.

Secondly, the current graduating debt level of students coming out of dental school is changing practice preferences. Current graduates are unable to borrow additional funds to start practices of their own and they must have a defined stream of income to pay off their student loans.

Lastly, finding highly qualified faculty for our dental schools, particularly faculty trained to do research, is becoming ever more difficult- especially in these days of declining state funding. Without faculty, there will be no dentists in the future!

What do you consider most important in designing the curriculum at the University Of Kentucky College Of Dentistry?
The University Of Kentucky College Of Dentistry has long had a reputation for being innovative with its curriculum. We are currently in the process of completely revising our curriculum. There are multiple guiding principles for this revision. First, we want to eliminate duplication and provide room for newly emerging science and techniques. Secondly, we want to be certain that our graduates learn everything that they need to be competent beginners. Third, we want our students to learn in a manner than enhances their understanding and retention of the material they are taught. That is the reason that we have adopted some new teaching technologies and will be changing our basic science instruction to a systems based approach which will be delivered concurrently with case based scenarios focusing on dental patients who have systemic illnesses related to the unit of study being presented.

What piece of advice would you like to give to the future Dental graduates?
I believe that graduates MUST adopt the attitude that change should be embraced as inevitable while at the same time questioning the evidence behind any recommended changes. Additionally, our graduates must accept the fact that, as one of our alumni once told them on graduation day, “you know just enough to be dangerous right now” and commit themselves to lifelong learning so that they continually improve their knowledge and skills so as to deliver the best possible dental care.