Ted Wong, DDS ’84 : Serving the nation as a dental leader
The UCSF Dental Alumni Association Board of Directors is honored to announce the 2023 Medal of Honor recipient: Ted Wong, DDS ’84.
Major General Ted Wong, DDS ’84, MHA, MSS, thought a brief stint in the U.S. Army would help him pay for college as he prepared for dental school.
Instead, the Army would come to define his life and career – it was where he practiced dentistry and rose to the highest levels of both medicine and the military.
“It was supposed to be three years and out – and it ended up being 30,” says Wong, who is being honored with the 2023 Medal of Honor from the UCSF School of Dentistry Alumni Association.
During his exceptional career, Wong became the first officer in the U.S. Army Dental Corps to lead two regional medical commands and two major medical centers, overseeing tens of thousands of patients as well as dental trainees. He eventually achieved the rank of major general and was the first Chinese American selected as chief of the entire Army Dental Corps.
“In every endeavor, Ted’s strong leadership, thoughtfulness, and compassion for others is evident,” says his colleague Major General Patrick Sculley, DDS, MA, dean emeritus of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Postgraduate Dental College. “He has set a marvelous example that members of the dental profession and all health care professionals will emulate for generations to come.”
An Officer and a Dentist
Wong grew up in Southern California, the son of Garden Grove dentist Po-Ping Wong, DDS ’65, who is not only a UCSF graduate as well but a recipient of the same UCSF Medal of Honor, in 2013.
“He was probably my biggest cheerleader and biggest motivator,” Wong says. “He was there for all of the ups and downs.”
It was his father who convinced him that the military might be a way to get a scholarship for his undergraduate education at UCLA, as well as dental school, so Wong joined the Army ROTC.
“My transition into the active Army, having gone through that training in college, prepared me well for putting on my uniform and knowing who to salute, but more importantly, for leadership,” Wong says.
After serving the required three years of active duty in Germany, he nearly left the service and returned to Southern California with his wife, Jeannie. But the Army continually found ways to keep him, with offers of advanced training and stints overseas and in Hawaii.
“The Army just had a way of enticing you to stay in, which made my father happy,” he says. “Dad felt that we, as Chinese Americans, should give back to our country, including serving in the military.”
When it came to dental training, UCSF was a natural choice for many reasons.
“I knew the reputation that UCSF has in terms of developing and producing highly skilled and knowledgeable clinicians, and for establishing a strong moral and ethical philosophy of clinical practice,” Wong says. “I had a great set of classmates and colleagues, and we supported each other and had fun.”
He was just as appreciative of their teachers, who, he says, “were so knowledgeable and talented and passionate about their profession. You could tell that they were dedicated to providing the best instruction so that we could be the best dentists.”
Keeping Soldiers Dentally Fit
Jeannie – and, later, three kids – accompanied him on some 15 moves; the family spent time in Korea, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, D.C.
He treasures all of it.
“I got to care for what I consider the most deserving people in the nation – America’s sons and daughters, those that have volunteered to defend our way of life at the risk of their own,” Wong says.
He retired from the Army in 2014, then went to work as an executive at UnitedHealthcare before retiring fully in 2020.
He is now president of the Association of Army Dentistry, works with veterans, and volunteers with the UCSF School of Dentistry Alumni Association, whose award he says is a tremendous honor, especially coming from peers.
“I’m not a typical recipient because I’m not an instructor or a researcher or somebody who’s very active in the dental professional organizations,” he says. “My receiving the award helps reinforce the idea that service to the nation is valued by our community, that it’s a viable and rewarding career path. And to receive an honor that my father received 10 years ago is also very special.”
There will not be a third generation of Wongs at UCSF, however. Neither his two sons nor his daughter followed him into the field. He jokes that the scary antique dental equipment he has collected might have been partly responsible.
“That probably had a negative impact on them when it came to the profession,” he says. “But they’ve got great teeth. I made sure of that.”