As he watched the students of the 2013 class of Western University of Health Sciences – College of Dental Medicine graduate in May, Steven W. Friedrichsen, DDS, couldn’t help but feel like his firstborn children were leaving the house.
Friedrichsen is the dean of the WesternU College of Dental Medicine, and on May 15, the inaugural class of the school held their commencement ceremony, a big deal for the newest of six dental schools in California.
“Everybody who has been around since the beginning had an overwhelming sense of pride as the first class graduated,” Friedrichsen said.
A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into getting the school off the ground; beginning in a temporary facility, having to develop a brand new curriculum and constantly seeking student and faculty input to help enhance the educational experience.
Friedrichsen credited the 65 students who graduated for laying the foundation for future classes.
“As a result of being members of that class, they definitely have a place in the history of the college, but more importantly, they helped build a culture of student engagement and left us with a legacy of what the school is going to look like in the future,” Friedrichsen said.
Joshua C. Carpenter, DMD, was the CDA Student Representative for the 2013 WesternU class.
“I chose to go to WesternU because we were able to decide what the curriculum would look like for the future and we were able to be a part of something brand new and on the leading edge of dental education,” Carpenter said.
During the four years the inaugural class spent on campus, the students provided a lot of input on the course content. For example, the basic science courses were initially designed to be delivered along the same lines as the medical school coursework (Western University of Health Sciences has nine colleges). Fairly early on, based on student and faculty feedback, the school determined the scope of the curriculum was more medical intensive than dentistry-related and was altered as a result.
“Starting out as a brand new school there were a lot of things that were unknown and a lot of things that were changing throughout the program,” Carpenter said. “In the end, I feel like I got an unmatched quality of dental education.”
Robert Stevenson, DDS, is one of the professors who has been at the dental school since it opened (there are currently 61 fulltime and part-time faculty and 57 adjunct faculty members). Stevenson saw how involved the student body was from the start.
“I sensed from the beginning that this class was a special class. They had a pioneering spirit and an attitude that they knew they were blazing the trail for the classes that would follow,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson began as a lecturer on oral surgery, ethics and jurisprudence, dental materials and restorative dentistry. He continues to serve as the ethics and jurisprudence course director in addition to his clinical responsibilities.
“I think as a whole, this class is going to represent the profession exceptionally well,” Stevenson said. “They are going to make some good contributions to the profession and also to the tripartite. I see some future leaders there.”
The inaugural class established chapters of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), American Association of Women Dentists, American Dental Education Association and conducted an Ethics Week. It also earned Gold Crown ASDA Chapter honors. Collectively, the students spent thousands of hours contributing to service projects such as Special Smiles, LA Cares, dozens of health fairs and establishing the dental clinic of the Riverside Student-Run Health Clinic, Friedrichsen said.
Friedrichsen said it was great to watch the students develop and to see the school reach several milestones, such as the first administration of the WREB licensure exam, accreditation, and, of course, the commencement.
“Our goal is to produce a really good general dentist. We don’t have specialty or residency programs, so our focus is on generating a solid general dentist, and I think we did that quite well with our first class,” Friedrichsen said.