Harvard School of Dental Medicine Dean to Step Down

Dentistry Today
Kai R. McNamee


Kai R. McNamee

R. Bruce Donoff, MD, DMD, dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) for 28 years, will step down from the position and transition to a role on the faculty, effective January 1, 2020. Throughout his tenure, Donoff moved HSDM forward with a broad vision for global and community oral health, the school reports.

A skilled oral surgeon and educator, the school added, Donoff has been an advocate for the integration of oral health and medicine to ensure improved outcomes for his own patients and for patients everywhere. He shaped the curriculum at HSDM and influenced the way dentistry is taught around the country and the world, HSDM said.

“It has been an honor leading the school and having had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented faculty, students, and staff, all of whom are dedicated to improving human health and advancing our mission,” Donoff said.

“I’m grateful to have had a career that allowed me to treat patients, educate students, and advance research, all while being an administrator. It’s rare for a dean to have that opportunity, and I am truly fortunate,” he said.

“Bruce and I have been good friends for decades, and I know from my tenure as president of Tufts the extremely high regard in which he is held throughout the academic oral health community,” said Harvard president Larry Bacow. 

“His personal commitment to academic excellence has shaped his quarter century as dean, driving the recruitment of extraordinarily talented students, faculty, and staff, and shaping efforts to make oral healthcare available and accessible to more people across the country and around the world,” Bacow said. 

Donoff previously was chair and chief of service of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, becoming the first Walter C. Guralnick Distinguished Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. A 1967 graduate of HSDM and a 1973 graduate of Harvard Medical School, he returned to the Harvard Longwood campus in 1991 when he was appointed dean of HSDM. 

“His work has built an important bridge between dentistry and medicine,” wrote Harvard Medical School dean George Daley in a joint letter with provost Alan Garber.

“Bruce has been widely recognized for caring deeply about students and their success. As an educator and a mentor, Bruce pioneered problem-based learning to help them better understand the fundamental concerns of those seeking treatment and their diseases, all the while stressing that students must listen closely to their patients and treat them with respect,” they continued. 

Considered by his HSDM colleagues a passionate advocate for research, Donoff stressed the importance of scientific inquiry in dental education. He led the creation of more space for laboratories and nearly doubled the school’s footprint with a new research and education building in 2004. His efforts were recognized with the 2004 William J. Gies Foundation Award for outstanding vision by an academic dental institution.

“A particularly meaningful tribute to Bruce is the sheer number of dental school deans around the world who recognize him as an innovator and who can also say that they received their degrees from HSDM,” wrote Daley and Garber.

In 2014, Donoff launched the HSDM Initiative to Integrate Oral Health and Medicine, an effort intended to improve quality and value throughout the healthcare system by, in his words, “reuniting the mouth with the rest of the body.”

HSDM says that its mission reflects his aspiration to break down traditional barriers between oral and systemic health. He ensured that dental students spend time working in community health centers as part of their training and expanded the scope of HSDM’s international presence, helping to launch Rwanda’s first dental school. Most recently, he led efforts to partner with dental schools in China and Vietnam to assist with curriculum development and workforce training. 

“Please join me in thanking Bruce for his many contributions to our community and for his steadfast efforts to advance and strengthen dental medicine at Harvard and beyond,” wrote Bacow.

Daley will lead the search for Donoff’s successor in consultation with HSDM, HMS, and the university’s communities as well as its president and provost.

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