Today, as associate dean, he works steadfastly behind the scenes on everything from student support and patient safety to clinical facilities – to ensure that the school meets the highest standards of excellence. 

With all your administrative duties, do you still find time to teach?

I teach one half-day a week and really enjoy working with our learners. We want to teach them that there’s more to dentistry than working on a tooth. Each person is unique, and we have to treat the whole person.

Tell us about the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

It’s the accrediting agency for dental education programs, and it reviews all accredited schools every seven years to ensure they’re meeting the established standards. I’m one of a number of individuals working to prepare for next year’s site visit. I’m glad we don’t have to do this every three years, like the hospitals, but it’s an important process. It forces you to look with a critical eye at what you’re doing, what your goals are, and whether you’re meeting them.

What changes have you seen in your 35-year career?

One of the big improvements has been infection control. When I was a student, we weren’t required to wear gloves and masks. I remember the pushback: People said they couldn’t do dental procedures while wearing gloves or that their patients couldn’t hear them when they were wearing masks. It took a long time to get everyone to comply. 

What is your favorite part of the week?

Working with my patients is very enjoyable. Some of my patients have been with me for many years, and now I’m also treating their adult children. You get an opportunity to know them. They put their trust in you, and that’s a big responsibility – and a privilege. 

Mark Kirkland is a professor and associate dean for clinical affairs in the UCSF School of Dentistry. His hobbies include working out, hiking, watching movies, and listening to live jazz.

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