Dr. Stephen Pachuta's message from the dean, November 2023

Recruiting and retaining for the workforce


Dean PachutaDear fellow alumni and friends of the School of Dentistry,

Earlier this month I had an opportunity to attend the fall deans meeting of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). ADEA, “the voice of dental education,” has as its mission statement “to lead and support the health professions community in preparing future-ready oral health professionals.” The keynote was presented by Ms. Hannah Ubl, co-founder of Good Company Consulting (https://www.goodcompanyconsulting.com). Hannah’s presentation was entitled “Work Reimagined: Recruiting and Retaining in Today’s Workplace.”

So you may be wondering why the national meeting of the executive leadership of dental schools would have such a strong focus on recruiting and retaining in today’s workplace. I can personally tell you that recruiting faculty and staff is one of the single hardest challenges that we face at our School of Dentistry. I would submit to you that it is even more challenging than recruiting qualified students for our predoctoral, postdoctoral and dental hygiene programs.

The number of vacant full-time faculty positions nationally has soared from less than 200 in 2011 to 537 in 2022; there are an additional 83 vacant part-time faculty positions nationally. This number includes general dentists and specialists; it does not include dental hygiene faculty which are just as dramatic. You can quickly begin to see the magnitude of the challenge that we are facing across the profession of academic dentistry. It is also worth noting that nearly 50% of the sitting deans are less than three years in their current positions. The American Dental Association reports that there are currently 72 accredited dental school in the United States, and by many accounts there are another five on the horizon. Prior to Covid, the number one reason a position was not able to be filled was because of a candidate’s inability to meet dental school expectations or meet the requirements for the position. Today the number one reason a position is not able to be filled is because of a lack of responses to the position announcement.

With these thoughts as a background, let’s look at some of the challenges we face with recruiting and retaining in today’s workplace. As Hannah’s presentation highlighted, it is not about the numbers. The culture of an organization remains the single most important aspect of attracting and retaining healthcare professionals. Every member of an organization has a role in shaping and developing culture. This starts with the leadership of the organization and then cascades to every member on the team. A recent MIT Sloan study noted that a toxic culture is 10 times more powerful in predicting workplace attrition than compensation. It is important that each of member of the organization remain focused on crafting a culture of appreciation, innovation, connection, safe vulnerability and trust. Psychological safety, or a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is a safe place for interpersonal risk-taking, remains a core value for shaping culture.

During my Navy career, we frequently made various attempts to develop and grow mentoring relationships. Some were formal, some were informal, some were casually developed, some were even directed; most were focused on the senior developing the junior. One form of mentoring that I found incredibly rewarding and an important part of my pursuit to remain personally and professionally relevant, is “reverse mentoring.” This is where I frequently engage and seek counsel from select members of the team who are usually several generations junior to this ole Boomer. Most generally never realize I am learning much more from them than they are from me.

As we continue preparations for our accreditation visit, we are encouraging our dental and dental hygiene graduates from the classes of 2016-2023 to assist us by completing a survey on our curriculum. This is an important part of the feedback loop for our programs. Complete the DDS 2016-2023 survey. Complete the DH 2016-2023 survey.

Wishing each of you and your families a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.

Lead well at every engagement; and thank you for all you do for our School and especially for our students.

Warmest regards,

Stephen Pachuta