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Educator Spotlight: Dianne Rekow, Dean, King’s College London Dental Institute

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By Nicole Fauteux

What happens when you put a new world educator at the helm of a venerable old world dental school? In the case of Dianne Rekow, D.D.S., Ph.D., Dean of the King’s College London Dental Institute in England, the answer is, she shakes things up! A school with King’s world-class reputation for excellence might be expected to rest on its laurels, but Dr. Rekow was not hired in 2011 to maintain the status quo. Dianne Rekow 200x300

“As at every great school, it is not a stable position when you’re at the top,” she says. “If you don’t invest in getting better, you can lose that enviable position.”

Dr. Rekow hails from New York University, where she most recently held the position of Senior Vice Provost of Engineering Technology. An internationally known authority on the performance of new materials and products in aesthetic and restorative dentistry, Past President of the American and International Associations for Dental Research, and a pioneer of digital dentistry, Dr. Rekow brings the full complement of her diverse experience in industry, research and administration to her current post. Perhaps of equal importance, she brings a new-world perspective that sees possibilities for innovation in a tradition-bound environment.  

“The British system is conservative in general, and change requires more collaboration,” she observes, pointing out that educational institutions in the U.K. provide dental education in cooperation with the hospitals of the National Health Service Trusts. “The attitude in the U.S. is that we can do anything. We’re kind of the teenagers of the world.”

This youthful outlook seems to be serving her well, spurring her to undertake a series of reforms. One the most visible changes she has made: dismantling traditional clinical academic departments and replacing them with faculty research groups. Under the new system, all faculty members participate in research groups with others who share their interests, regardless of academic track or scholarly credentials.  

“I wanted to break the traditional departmental mold,” she says, “and I was able to convince a core group to give it a try.” According to Rekow, 90% of the faculty are now “on board” and see the value in the new model. “Researchers are comfortable with it, and clinicians find they’re learning more this way, and the richness of the grants that come out of this kind of arrangement can be quite spectacular. I’m particularly interested in the impact of what we’re doing on changing clinical practice, informing policy and creating new products.” 

In addition to the new administrative structure, under Dr. Rekow’s leadership King’s has revised its predoctoral curriculum to add content related to communication, professionalism and leadership. Meanwhile, on the clinical side, the college has introduced a group practice model delivering comprehensive patient care.

Supporting these changes are two faculty development initiatives that are also breaking new ground. A new faculty-mentoring program goes beyond assisting participants with promotion and tenure. “This mentoring program is about the evolution of a person,” Dr. Rekow says. “We try to find ways to help them develop the skills that are important to them—and to us—which may or may not affect tenure.”

She is also encouraging faculty members to look for inspiration and guidance beyond their home institution by challenging them to identify schools that are doing interesting work in their disciplines and sending them to visit those schools.

Dr. Rekow also takes pride in having changed the balance of female leadership at King’s since her arrival. “When I came here, I was the only woman in a leadership position. I knew there were women on the faculty who were extraordinarily well-qualified so I initiated an internal search process. I asked for expressions of interest, interested candidates were interviewed by a panel of peers, and we now have six women in leadership roles.” 

Dr. Rekow believes that global cooperation can facilitate similar progress at other dental schools. She would like to see more student and faculty exchanges, collaborative funding mechanisms, international meetings and use of the Internet to encourage conversations across borders.

“It doesn’t matter where you are,” Dr. Rekow concludes. “Leadership is always about people and their concerns—how you motivate them, what kind of role model you provide. It’s not about what you say, but what you do, that matters.”

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