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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, December 10, 2023

Huw Thomas to leave role as Dean of School of Dental Medicine

Dean of the School of Dental Medicine Huw Thomas, slated to leave at the end of the academic year, poses for a portrait.

Dean of the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM) Huw Thomas will step down from his role at the conclusion of this academic year.

Thomas has served as dean of TUSDM since 2011 after spending more than seven years as the dean of the School of Dentistry at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, according to his faculty page.

“There comes a time when it’s time to think of other things,” Thomas said. “Stepping down as dean will allow me to really start to focus on inter-professional education more within the Tufts campuses.”

Thomas said that during his time as dean, two of his main areas of focus were patient-centered education and inter-professional education. To increase patient-centered education, Thomas worked on better integrating the student curriculum across all four years.

“The idea was that we would try to have our students understand why they do what they do in the first two years,” Thomas said. “It becomes very important in terms of their clinical approaches to treating patients.”

Thomas added that the university already had a reputation for its inter-professional environment when he joined, and he worked to further improve this.

Executive Associate Dean of TUSDM Mark Gonthier explained what inter-professional education looks like in the classroom.

“Future dentists learn chair-side with future medical providers, with nutritionists, pharmacists, etc., in the overall coordination of the best care for patients,” he said.

Gonthier, who has worked with Thomas since he was appointed dean in 2011, said that Thomas has spent a lot of time strengthening relationships between the Health Sciences Schools as well as with other schools in the Boston area.

“Often there are many questions that need to be asked across disciplinary areas to arrive at the best way to create a treatment plan and find effective working relationships with patients,” Gonthier said. “One of [Thomas'] big emphases has been making that concept more real.”

Thomas said he created faculty and staff advisory councils in an effort to open more direct lines of communication with the TUSDM administration. He worked on increasing diversity in admissions and appointed Assistant Clinical Professor Christina Pastan as TUSDM's first director of mind-body wellness in 2015 to help improve student well-being through activities like yoga and meditation.

Provost and Senior Vice President ad interimDeborah Kochevar, formerly dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, said she and Thomas both saw value in spreading inter-professional education to the veterinary school, an idea that falls under the concept of “One Health.”

“We actually had some shared interests, particularly in an area that we would call 'One Health:' the notion that sometimes there are diseases that impact animals and people,” Kochevar said. 

She said there is a growing notion in the medical community that there can be great gains when doctors from across medical specialties work together.

Kochevar is chair of the search committee that will find a new dean to replace Thomas. She said she is currently working with Human Resources to identify a suitable search firm to help with this process.

"Dean Thomas has been and is a valued member of the Tufts community and has done a great job of leading the School of Dental Medicine, and so we’ll work hard to find a great replacement,” she said.

Simultaneously, Kochevar is working on putting together the search committee that will likely include faculty, staff or administrators, a student and someone on the TUSDM Board of Advisors.

“By the end of this semester or early next semester, the search committee will be hearing from the search firm about candidates and reviewing credentials,” she said.

From there, the committee will create a shortlist of candidates and discuss with University President Anthony Monaco about whom to appoint as the next dean, according to Kochevar.

After stepping down as dean in June 2019, Thomas intends to take a six-month sabbatical, during which time he said he will continue working at TUSDM to develop the inter-professional education program. Although he does not know exactly what the future holds for him, he sees Tufts as being a part of that future and does not have plans to leave.