100 Years of ADEA: Prof. Pamela Zarkowski


Pamela Zarkowski, J.D., M.P.H.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Professor of Dentistry
University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry

During her tenure as ADEA President, Prof. Zarkowski helped steer the organization through many monumental events from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to the creation of the ADEAGies Foundation. With a background in dental hygiene, dental public health and law, Prof. Zarkowski has a unique perspective on the profession. It has led her to advocate for the importance of teaching legal and ethical concepts at dental schools. In her profile, Prof. Zarkowski looks back on her past achievements and the ADEA’s evolution since her days as president.

Q. Does having a background in dental hygiene and law provide you with a unique perspective as a dental educator? How has it informed how you approach dental education?

I have a background in dental hygiene, dental public health and law. The three disciplines provide an exceptional foundation for my dental educator role, providing me with a unique lens. I am fortunate to continue to teach dental hygiene, predoctoral and residents and provide continuing education. The three disciplines allow me to “connect the dots.” My ability to connect patient care and community service and engagement in light of a dental professional’s legal and ethical obligations is evident in the examples I provide while teaching. I strive to demonstrate the importance of using legal concepts and ethics to guide patient/provider interactions, practice climate, risk management and best practices. I advocate integrating the principles in curricula to enhance the graduate’s professional “compass”, whether in the operatory, conducting research, in industry, or as part of community engagement activities.

Q. You've advocated for the importance of teaching legal and ethical concepts in dental education, from sexual harassment in dental offices to the informed consent of teenaged patients. Why do you think it’s important for dental schools and allied dental programs to include this type of instruction in their courses?

As oral health care providers, we know that clinical decision-making and competency are valued and expected by our patients. Patients trust that our graduates will meet their oral health needs within accepted standards. I would suggest that all dental team members have a special calling to the profession. Answering the call creates a social contract with the individuals they treat and serve. Thus, understanding legal and ethical concepts enhances their ability to best serve and meet their obligation as dental providers and professionals. Knowledge of the concepts contributes to the student’s professional development and understanding of their obligations as licensed professionals. The awareness follows them throughout their career, guiding their interactions with patients and peers.

Q. You’ve previously served as an ADEA President and got to see operations of the organization up close, and you continue to be an active member. What changes have you witnessed within the organization over the decades that are standouts to you?

I was President of ADEA when 9/11 occurred and saw how the organization pivoted to serve its members. My theme for my presidential year was “Lead Change”. ADEA has been an exemplar in leading change. Changes include a strong emphasis on professional and leadership development. A recognition that faculty and administrators benefit from programming and opportunities to enhance their skills, knowledge and practices. I have seen a commitment to create a pipeline of both leaders and educators to serve the needs of our educational institutions. A focus on welcoming everyone engaged in dental education to become members and participate as leaders and followers. ADEA also recognized that the dental profession is not isolated, resulting in collaboration, IPE and a concerted effort to connect oral health with general health among and between all professions. Finally, the recognition that diversity on all levels is essential. Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice are hallmarks and an important part of the ADEA tapestry.

Q. During your tenure as ADEA President, you helped create the ADEAGies Foundation. Why was the creation of the Foundation important and what void in dental education or dentistry itself do you think it addresses that existed before the Foundation’s creation?

The William Gies Foundation wanted to engage with a not-for-profit association and identified ADEA as an ideal partner. We agreed as an organization to match the funds the William Gies Foundation offered. The collaboration resulted in the ADEAGies Foundation, which served as a resource for the work of ADEA. At the time, and it has come to fruition, the goal was to create opportunities to advance oral health through grants, programming, scholarship and special initiatives. We also thought it was essential to celebrate institutions and individuals within and outside of dentistry that modeled what the Foundation stood for and hoped to achieve. It continues to promote innovation advancing dental education and the dental profession. I was proud to serve as the Foundation’s first president following its inception.

Q. Which of your accomplishments in relationship to ADEA and/or dental education, in general, are you most proud of?

During my tenure as President of ADEA, I often used the tapestry analogy. ADEA, as an organization, included unique threads consisting of its members, goals, services, successes and challenges. It is a complex organization, just as a tapestry consists of multiple threads, colors and stitches. I am most proud that the ADEA Leadership Institute and ADEA Allied Dental Faculty Leadership Development Program were started during my tenure. We engaged with global partners, meeting with the Association for Dental Education in Europe in Prague. We worked to engage all members to participate and contribute to the organization. I was in Washington, DC, on Sept. 11, 2001. As an organization and with our members, we navigated the aftermath of 9/11 and its impact on us as individuals and as a profession. It contributed to our strength and commitment to each other as dental educators, forming the next generation. I am also grateful for the opportunity to remain engaged with ADEA in various roles, whether contributing to the ADEA Leadership Institute, participating in the ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition or responding to a request from the ADEA leadership.