ADEA CCI Liaison Ledger

Educator Spotlight: Maureen McAndrew, D.D.S., M.S.Ed.

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Maureen McAndrewBy Debra Werrlein

Maureen McAndrew, D.D.S., M.S.Ed., could not foresee how her career would change when she took a part-time job teaching at New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD) 16 years ago. “I spent all of half an hour showing a student how to place a rubber dam and I was hooked,” she says. The plan had been to teach while earning her master’s degree in education, but the teaching evolved quickly into a full-time position managing clinical faculty and coordinating the curriculum at NYUCD’s new simulation lab. Today she is a Clinical Professor and Senior Director of Professional Development at NYUCD where she has made lifelong learning a focus of the programming she has created for clinical faculty.

If Dr. McAndrew wants to inspire clinical faculty to actively seek new knowledge, she is in the right place. NYUCD is deeply invested in the idea that dental practice should be based on the best available evidence—a goal that can only be attained if dentists commit to lifelong learning.

“The idea that dentists must keep learning is drummed into students’ heads from day one,” says Dr. McAndrew. So it seems only logical that NYUCD would take the idea of lifelong learning to the faculty. (NYUCD’s groundbreaking work in preparing students to practice evidence-based dentistry was featured in an ADEA CCI Liaison Ledger Campus Spotlight in 2012.)

Dr. McAndrew has created a professional development program that focuses on improving teaching through pedagogical training that is coupled with the promotion of faculty research, publications and presentations—activities that ultimately influence practice. Dr. McAndrew expects a lively continuum to happen here, where one activity feeds the next.

All of this began with the recognition at NYUCD that clinical faculty needed help with instruction. In 2005, Dr. McAndrew was asked if she could, quite simply, teach the clinical faculty how to teach. She spent the following summer creating the Excellence in Teaching Program with her colleagues, Tracy Kamens, Ed.D., and Anthony Palatta, D.D.S., Ph.D. The five-session program developed that summer is still going strong today and includes topics such as adult learning theory, generational issues and how to give effective feedback.

The program didn’t include a research element at first, but it became immediately clear to Dr. McAndrew that teaching couldn’t be cordoned off from research. “New faculty members quickly discover that to become a successful academic, they need to do research. They have to acclimate to our philosophy,” says Dr. McAndrew.

She added a research project requirement after just one year with the aim of helping clinical faculty become better scholars and presenters. For many of the participants, explains Dr. McAndrew, research was a new experience. “These are dentists,” she says. “Many join the faculty for altruistic reasons. They want to give back to their profession by sharing their knowledge. What they don’t anticipate is how much they’ll learn in the process.”

She points to the treatment of dental caries as one example: Where many dentists may still remove all decay, NYUCD teaches a more conservative approach that seals off decay to stop its progression and preserve the integrity of the tooth. “In examples like these,” says Dr. McAndrew, “teaching opens the eyes of new faculty to what the researchers are doing.”

Clinical faculty at NYUCD have embraced this aspect of professional development. “These are busy people,” says Dr. McAndrew, “but they still make time for these research projects. Many get a publication out of it, and hopefully all of them have fun in the process.” Dr. McAndrew is pleased to see that faculty publications, outside presentations and faculty retention have increased over the last decade and that many faculty report back that what they learn at the school ultimately changes what they do in their offices. “And so we see this cycle,” she says, “from teaching, to research, to practice and back to teaching.”

Over 130 clinical faculty have completed the Excellence in Teaching program to date. In fact, it has been so well received, its graduates asked for more, leading to the creation of the Class Advanced Clinical Teaching Scholars (ClassACTS) certificate program in 2009.

“When requests came in for further instruction,” Dr. McAndrew says, “I felt we’d already told them what we wanted them to know, so I turned it around on them and asked, ‘What knowledge will help you grow in your career?’” Requests for guidance on small-group facilitation, how to be a better presenter and conflict resolution shaped the resulting four-session program.

Dr. McAndrew’s commitment to these efforts stems from her belief that better teachers also make better dentists. She says, “In their interactions with patients, colleagues and staff, the average dentist teaches all day long.”

But Dr. McAndrew’s work isn’t focused on helping clinical faculty climb the career ladder. It’s clear in talking to her that a passion for learning and a commitment to professional improvement drive her decision-making. “I’ve tried to create a safe environment for learning where students and faculty know it’s okay to make mistakes. Personally, I learn much more from my failures than my successes. If I’m a good teacher, it’s because I remember what it’s like to be in their shoes—to be confused.” She emphasizes that even for seasoned faculty, “We’re looking to have fun and educate.” 

Case in point: Dr. McAndrew is particularly excited about two new initiatives she’s implementing at NYUCD. The first is a “Passport to Cultural Competence” program in which faculty receive a simulated passport where they can collect stamps as they learn about how to interact with patients from cultures that differ from their own. The second is a micro-learning eblast called “Monday Morning Mentoring.” The emails share tidbits about topics such as peer teaching and how to manage your boss. These brief messages, which link to additional resources for those who want to learn more, have been a hit with faculty who say they look forward to seeing them each week. Dr. McAndrew is pleased with the faculty’s enthusiasm and hopes the emails will reach less involved faculty because, “even a little learning goes a long way.”

Through these many initiatives, Dr. McAndrew has further woven the idea of lifelong learning into the culture at NYUCD. Ultimately, this mindset is passed along to the dental students who start off their careers with an idea of their professional selves as always a work in progress. “You cannot get away with graduating dental school and closing yourself off from what’s going on,” says Dr. McAndrew. “Things change very rapidly. You just can’t function in isolation anymore. Patients won’t let you. And at NYUCD, we won’t let you either.” 

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