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Dr. Dudley Cheu
Dr. Dudley Cheu

On Sunday, July 12, I attended a touching event in honor of an extraordinary person. It was a celebration of Dr. Dudley Cheu’s life. Dr. Cheu, who had been teaching at our school since 1994, was an assistant professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry. It was a very sad event due to his early passing and my heart goes out to his family and friends.

I learned a great deal about Dr. Cheu’s life at the ceremony. I knew him at campus from his smiling face; incredibly positive attitude; compassion and desire to help our students; and the fact that he always got things done around the school. He was always commendable and supportive when interacting with our students. And the students clearly felt just as positive about him. A year ago, for example, students honored him at an awards dinner as an outstanding faculty member.

With his passing, we should all contemplate what lessons we can learn from his positive approach to life. As I watched more than 300 people gather to commemorate his life and listen to his friends talk about him, I learned what an extraordinary role model he was for us all, including myself.

Dr. Cheu clearly knew how to balance his life. His family, including his wife Genevieve, two sons Jason and Derek, and grandchildren were important parts of his life. He loved his profession and his patients, and at the same time had the opportunity to enjoy many other aspects of life. He was well travelled, enjoyed great food and fantastic wines. We should all remember his approach as an example to live by – a person who knew how to balance his priorities and do it well. He embraced life and enjoyed it to the fullest. He will be missed by all, but never forgotten.

I was fortunate to listen to a presentation made by Dr. Ling Jun-qi, professor and dean from the Guanghua School of Stomatology in Guangzhou, China. As part of a recent visit to our school, Dr. Ling Jun-qi gave an informative update on the state of dental education and dentistry in her country.

Dental educators from China recently visited our school.
Dental educators from China during a recent meeting and tour of our school.

In the United States, roughly 20 percent of our population has no access to oral healthcare. That equates to around 60 million people.

It is extraordinary when you think of the issue in China where they are dealing with a patient population of 1.5 billion. They have roughly the same number of dentists in China as we have in the U.S. The issues of access to care have to be extremely overwhelming for the country.

As we all know, oral health and overall health go hand in hand. It gives you some sense of the magnitude of the status of health in an incredibly fast-emerging country. When you read about China, it does not give you an excuse to say we are better off. We have significant problems here that need to be solved.

The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world. At one time, before the economic downturn, California was estimated to have the seventh-largest economy in the world. Yet our state has some of the highest rates of tooth decay among children in the U.S. My perspective is that we have a significant problem for a country of our size and wealth.

Perhaps we have something to learn as other countries struggle with the problem of access to care. How they solve these issues may give us some insight into solving our problems as well. The bottom line is we have a lot to learn from each other. That is the importance of being involved globally. While problems may be of a different magnitude, they are the same in many ways. Access to care for the population is a worldwide problem. It’s a greater problem in many other countries, but we still all should work to develop strategies to address it.

I enjoyed discussing some of these shared issues with the leaders from the Guanghua School of Stomatology. You can read more about their visit and see a photo of the group with our Dean’s Cabinet on our Web site.

Here is a summary of the issues identified in the strategic plan:

  1. Lead educational innovation
  2. Develop professionals committed to improving the health of all people
  3. Build focused and valued research initiatives
  4. Build upon the Dugoni School’s unique strengths to create and enhance revenue streams
  5. Create a resource-rich, supportive, and diverse culture to develop, retain, and recruit outstanding individuals
  6. Optimize our faculty assets and technology investments

I think it is worth taking a deeper look at each of these. Today I am going to discuss the broad topic of educational innovation.

What we are trying to say in these few words is that the school must become a leader in formulating new and creative ways to face the health care challenges in the local community, the nation, and the world. We must not only educate oral health care providers in the delivery of dental services, but also in understanding the importance of oral health to overall health.

It is our responsibility to develop professionals committed to improving the health of the public by nurturing future leaders, implementing innovative curricula including service learning, collaborating in private and public partnerships, and enhancing clinical care through cultural understanding and international collaborations.

In my next post, I will talk about some of the ways in which we apply these practices.

Today, I am beginning my journey down the Smith River in Montana. It is the first time I will go fly fishing. I am pleased I get to enjoy this time with several of our dear friends of the dental school, Dr. Tom Bales and Mr. Fred de Roode. They indicated to me that it was time that I learn how to relax, so I am going to give it a try. There will be no pictures of the experience. I will be sleeping in a sleeping bag on the banks of the river for five nights. I may be the best dressed non-fisherman on the trip.

I encourage you all to relax during the break. I think we all need time for reflection and relaxation with family and friends. I will not be in communication during this week. Apparently, cell phone reception and other ways of communicating are non-existent, so that is probably good news for you all. You will not get any messages from me asking you to do something. At the same time, I apologize if there is anything you need from me. I will not be able to get back to it until I reach civilization again on Saturday.

Best wishes and safe travels wherever you may be during the break — a break that is well deserved for everyone.