Sanity for Saints
For Iowa dental students, their fourth-year curriculum simulates aspects of a private practice environment. This experience prepares Iowa graduates to practice dentistry independently, and it is one reason that newly minted alumni routinely hear from their colleagues—whether in the military, graduate programs, or private practice—that “we know you will hit the ground running because you’re from Iowa.”
The approximately thirty adjunct faculty in Family Dentistry are the engine for Iowa’s success. These faculty members mentor fourth-year students as they go from novice clinical beginners to competent and independent clinicians.
Although adjunct faculty spend the majority of their time in their own private practices, they selflessly give of their time, expertise, and experience to serve their students, the college, and the profession. Yet through their generosity, they also receive a great deal from the experience too.
Most adjunct faculty members were themselves once Iowa dental students. Salvador “Buddy” Atienza (’94 DDS), whose private practice is in Maquoketa, IA and teaches at the college on Mondays, said that adjunct faculty were vital to his educational experience. Atienza explained, “As a student, they prepared me so well for
“I hope that I can help dental students learn concepts that have been important for my success in private practice so that they can experience that success sooner than I did,” Atienza added.
Steven Means, who began at the college as an adjunct clinical instructor but is now an associate professor in Family Dentistry, knows that adjunct faculty bring great value to our dental students. “Their value goes well beyond teaching technical proficiency,” Means explained.
“The vast and complex nature of treating diverse patients with a wide range of needs is extremely challenging, and adjunct faculty model and support our D4 students as they develop the ability to do just that.”
Mark Marz (’78 DDS), whose private practice is in Williamsburg, IA, is one of the longest serving adjunct faculty members with over 35 years of experience.
“Sharing my experiences with young professionals is one of the greatest privileges I have had,” Marz explained. “Students thirst to hear from those who have lived out our profession in the private sector."
Robert Bowers (’16 DDS), who was an adjunct faculty member for five years before recently becoming a tenure-track faculty member at the college, also feels fortunate to be able to give back. “The opportunity to make a positive impact on student and patient lives in Iowa brings immeasurable fulfillment and great memories,” he said.
These teaching opportunities not only bring personal and professional fulfillment, but they also help form each adjunct faculty into the professional that they are.
"Private practice is often a stressful and isolating experience,” said Atienza, “but teaching once a week keeps me engaged with the wider profession, learning with world-renowned professors and becoming a better clinician with every patient.”
According to Marz, the teaching experience shows how much we can grow.
“I frequently find myself in the role of student while teaching with world-class colleagues, and we all need to embrace the idea that learning is a lifelong process,” he explained.
When Heather Heddens (’80 DDS) first began teaching at the college on Tuesdays in 1987, she began referring to Tuesdays as her “sanity day.” So many cases in private practice can just make dentists scratch their heads. When Heddens would come across a weird or unusual case, her colleagues in Family Dentistry would be an invaluable resource to consult with. “Teaching for the college was key to my development as a dentist,” Heddens explained.
These experiences taught Heddens a valuable lesson that all dentists have to learn at some point: “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’ Ask your colleagues, fellow dentists, or mentors for help!”
The adjunct experience also connects our faculty to the larger profession. For Bowers, he gained insight into the hows and whys of the dental profession and its new directions. This reinvigorated his commitment to the profession more broadly.
Sara Stuefen (’10 DDS), whose private practice is in Vinton, IA, had a similar trajectory. After she graduated, she began teaching on Thursdays. Her own experience as a young dentist and the experience of mentoring other young dentists at the college gave her a deep appreciation for the challenges facing them—whether it’s student loan debt or dental education more generally. As result, she began serving on committees for new dentists in the Iowa Dental Association and the American Dental Association.
Iowa Family Dentistry Faculty Excellence Fund
Family Dentistry is unique and enriching experience for fourth-year dental students, in large part because more than 50% of their clinical education and professional mentorship is facilitated by adjunct faculty. Adjunct faculty are dentists from the community that practice in a variety of clinical settings and commit to teaching in Family Dentistry one day a week for ten months a year. The dedication and intrinsic value that adjunct faculty bring to Family Dentistry greatly enriches students' holistic dental education, and provides opportunities for students to learn how their dental school experiences and education fit into various practice models following graduation.
Recruiting exceptional adjunct faculty is more critical than ever in order to sustain a world-class dental program and continuing building the next generation of dentistry leaders. Formidable demographic and economic challenges are beginning to jeopardize this legacy, including
- Imminent retirement of "baby-boomer" adjunct faculty with long tenures of teaching and service
- Record levels of educational debt amongst early- and mid-career dentists who would like to adjunct, but are unable to serve due to student loan repayment obligations
- Continued decreases in state funding and support for public institutions of higher-learning
The Iowa Family Dentistry Faculty Excellence Fund will provide a sustainable base for adjunct student loan repayment assistance, enabling our department to attract and retain early- and mid-career dentists who desire to mentor, teach, and serve the profession of dentistry through adjunct education in Family Dentistry.
This fund will help ensure a durable legacy in producing top-tier dental graduates and facilitate a new generation of Family Dentistry adjunct educational leaders to maintain the high caliber clinical education standards for which our department is known.
How You Can Help
While each of these faculty members have sacrificed time in their private practice for the benefit of dental students, the college, and the larger dental profession in Iowa, their experiences are well worth it. Adjunct teaching is molding our future professional colleagues, one at a time, and is one of the most rewarding
ways to give back!
Currently, the Department of Family Dentistry is looking to cultivate its group of adjunct faculty. This begins with recruiting dentists with a passion for student mentorship and professional camaraderie into the program. If you are interested in learning more about how you can participate, reach out to Chris Barwacz (’07 DDS), the chair of Family Dentistry.
However, there are also other significant ways to help. The Iowa Family Dentistry Faculty Excellence Fund is a new endowment designed to provide financial assistance, principally in the form of student loan repayment efforts, to help recruit and retain world-class early and mid-career adjunct faculty that desire to mentor, teach, and serve the profession of dentistry through adjunct education in Family Dentistry. Your donation can help our college to continue its durable legacy of providing Iowans with top-tier dental graduates by supporting adjunct faculty that directly mentor and provide clinical instruction to our future colleagues.