Program Training Dental Students for Academic Careers Earns Gies Award

Dentistry Today


The University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine received the ADEAGies Foundation 2020 Award for Outstanding Vision by an Academic Dental Institution in recognition of its Academic Career Track Area of Concentration (ACT ACRO) training program.

Addressing current and future nationwide shortages of dentists by providing strong dental education, the school said, ACT ACRO was designed for students who are or who may be interested in a career that trains them to teach future dentists.

ACT ACRO began in 2012 as a single elective course, Clinical Teaching Practicum, for dental students to learn about teaching in dental education. It has been offered every semester since then and has grown in popularity with increased enrollment, the school said.

The course’s growth inspired the development of a comprehensive program to fully prepare students for an academic career and equip them with skills in teaching, scholarship, and leadership, the school said.

In 2014, Dr. Zsuzsa Horvath, ACT ACRO director, and Dr. Christine Wankiiri-Hale, ACT ARCO clinical director and associate dean of student affairs, developed a two-year certificate program rooted in a comprehensive curriculum covering teaching, scholarship, and service.

Notably, the school said, it developed this program several years before the American Dental Education Association released its 2018 policy brief, “Our Future Faculty—The Importance of Recruiting Students and Residents to Academic Dentistry.”

The three-tiered program includes the ACT ARCO two-year certificate program as well as academic career track elective courses and extracurricular activities. It offers opportunities for students who are set on a teaching career as well as for those who are just curious.

Horvath believes that the opportunity should be available to students to learn about and practice teaching when they are ready and their schedule allows.

“We are very pleased. Faculty support and enthusiasm for the program is now very high,” Horvath said.

“Third- and fourth-year students are looking forward to developing and practicing teaching skills, and first- and second-year students see their peers as student teachers in preclinical courses,” she said. 

The school said that it understands how much students crave such a learning experience and the opportunity to combine their interest in dentistry with teaching.

“Not knowing what to expect, the number of students in the program has far exceeded any of our expectations. Students express interest in the program as early as the admission interviews,” said Wankiiri-Hale.

The program is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in North American dental schools, the school said. Participation has increased from six students at its inception to 16 in the current graduating class.

While it is still too early to assess how many students will enter academia, the school said, recent graduates report the benefits of the program during their residency training and in their first jobs.

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