"I love my position at Pacific because each day I come to work is an opportunity to make a difference."
Teresa Kuhlman is a self-pronounced "embracer of change." Through her 23 cumulative years at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry she's seen a plethora of changes, including the way the school makes use of technology, delivers its curriculum, provides patient care and uses physical spaces in the building at 2155 Webster Street in San Francisco.
"In 1981, after I'd been working here for four years, I was asked to be one of the beta-testers for the main clinic's first computer system," recalls Teresa of the school's first foray into a technological patient-management system. "It was a Burroughs computer, and at the time it was a complete "foreign object" to the patient care dental clinic environment.
Since then, she's seen the school evolve from using a Rolodex TM for patient record filing, and paper-memo organization into a school that openly embraces new technologies, methods of communication and approaches to teaching. After Teresa spent seven years in the clinic holding three different positions, she left the Dugoni School of Dentistry in 1985 to spend time with her two sons, and then to hold a position at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), which happens to be located directly across the street from the dental school in Pacific Heights.
Upon hearing of a newly created position in the Clinical Sciences Division at the Dugoni School, Teresa transitioned back into dental academics in 1994 and assumed the clinical sciences manager position. Here she was responsible for managing a staff of six, working with seven department chairs and a large group of clinical faculty within a variety of disciplines including endodontics, restorative dentistry and removable prosthodontics. Teresa held the title of clinical sciences manager for nearly 13 years.
"I thoroughly enjoyed and valued my position in clinical sciences. It gave me the opportunity to mentor and manage staff, yet also interact and engage with colleagues at many levels of the school from administration, to human resources, to the various clinics," said Teresa. "It was a perfect fit for me on every level."
Fast forward to 2006 when the dental school had spent several years analyzing its curriculum to determine if there could be improvements and revisions. The consensus: the curriculum could and should evolve to be more collaborative, more integrated and more learner-centered. A team of dental school administrators, educators and staff set out to modify the school's approach. Teresa was tapped to collaborate and help manage this effort.
"Talk about dramatic curricular change," she recalled. "Here we were about to shake up the way we delivered our content, to deconstruct portions of it, while reconstructing others, removing redundancies, and placing a focus on timely sequencing. Our school had a set curriculum for nearly 30 years, so these changes seemed daunting at times for many."
Despite the imminent challenges facing a curricular revision, Teresa left the Clinical Sciences Division to assume the role of manager of the Integrated Clinical Sciences Curriculum in 2006. In this position she facilitates small group seminars and case-based learning; communicates with faculty, students and staff about the curriculum; and coordinates classroom logistics and preparation of educational material - among many other areas of academic oversight.
"Of course we faced understandable challenges and obstacles moving towards this model of teaching at first," said Teresa. "But I made it a personal goal to stay true to the intentions of these curriculum changes, bring people along, assisting and supporting their needs so they may better understand what the school was hoping to accomplish. Over those transitional years the community has really embraced the new curriculum."
Teresa reflected that she felt the school's new model of learning was a success when the DDS Class of 2008 graduated. This was the first class to be introduced to a modified curriculum, now known as the Pacific Dental Helix Curriculum.
"That class really worked with the Integrated Clinical Sciences team to embrace what they had received, provided positive yet constructive feedback allowing us to feel confident that moving forward, we could only improve," she said. Which is what she — and her ICS colleagues — focus on each year: constant reflection, active listening, consistent tweaking, all in an effort to make the Dugoni School of Dentistry's curriculum a pacesetter.
Presently, the dental school is evaluating future needs for physical facilities in order to support enhancements in the curriculum. Teresa is the first to point out that any new facilities will bring changes that everyone will need to adapt to. But looking back at the journey that's brought her here, something tells us she'll manage just fine.