First graduating class at Touro College of Dental Medicine clears many hurdles

First graduating class at Touro College of Dental Medicine clears many hurdles. Inaugural group of students at New York dental school starts careers before labs and classrooms built, and wraps things up amid a global pandemic.

For the 2020 graduating class at Touro College of Dental Medicine (TCDM) in Westchester County, New York, it’s been quite a journey.

Many of the graduating students at this new dental school came to the campus at New York Medical College four years ago before dental clinics were even available for their use. Along the way TCDM-the 66th dental school to open in the United States, the first new one to open in New York State in more than 50 years, and the first one outside of Israel under Jewish auspices-built an impressive, high-tech dental clinic facility for the students as they prepared to become part of the school’s first-ever graduating class this spring. Then along came a novel coronavirus early this year and everything changed.

Not only was the dental industry struck a major blow as practices around the country were prohibited from delivering routine care for more than two months, but schools everywhere were closed in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. All of a sudden these soon-to-be dental student graduates at TCDM were no longer able to see patients and to study and learn in a traditional clinical atmosphere.

Despite these obstacles, Dr. Christopher Walinski, an Associate Professor of Dental Medicine who oversees clinical training for third and fourth year dental students, is confident this inaugural group of new dentists from Touro is more than well-prepared to enter into dental practice. He believes the students who came to the new school even before the labs were ready for use illustrated early on that they have what it takes to succeed.

“This class is pretty special,” says Walinski, who is also the Course Director for Lasers in Dentistry at TCDM. “You know, they didn't even have a classroom when they started. There were no labs, there was no testing center, and there were no clinics. In fact, they were two years away from some of those things. So, on sheer trust and prayer they came to the school and little by little everything else was built.”

Prior to his full-time teaching role at TCDM, Walinski was Associate Professor at The University of Tennessee College of Dentistry, and he maintains a role as Visiting Professor at Taipei Medical University College of Oral Medicine, and the National University of La Plata in Buenos Aires, emphasizing minimally invasive dentistry and dental technologies. 

There are plusses with having brand new clinics and state of the art technology, including 3D printers, CAD/CAM, dental lasers and more. 

“It's a gorgeous school because everything is brand new,” says Walinski, who is currently the Executive Director of the World Clinical Laser Institute (WCLI) and a Founding Member of the American Academy of Oral Systemic Health. “I'm a clinical practice leader, and our clinic isn't even a year-old. The school has a huge interest in technology, which suits me perfectly.”

Dr. Ronnie Myers, Dean of the Touro College of Dental Medicine, cuts a ribbon at the opening of the school's two newest dental clinics, named after regional New York counties (Dutchess and Sullivan). Photos courtesy of TCDM.

The students work daily with 3Shape TRIOS intraoral scanners, BIOLASE lasers, Formlabs and Straumann 3D printers and CBCT units. “Everything is digital,” he says. “Surgical guides are digital, the students use cone beam CBCT and even study casts are digitally printed.”

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As a pioneer in the area of dental lasers, Walinski is course director for an extensive 10-week laser program for the fourth year TCDM students. The faculty also includes a prosthodontist and several periodontists who use lasers in their private practices, so the students get a full blown course that teaches them about the different laser wavelengths and gives them exposure to a lot of different procedures. Students can also earn an Associate Fellowship through the World Clinical Laser Institute, with additional motivation to do well didactically; the reward being additional  opportunities to perform laser procedures on patients.

“Since the students all did well in their laser course, they’re allowed to schedule laser procedures for their patients. The benefit of it being a new school is that the labs are new, the equipment's new and you're not teaching them old methods.”

These last few weeks when the labs were closed to students and face-to-face instruction was restricted, the faculty at TCDM had to switch things up on the fly. The New York Medical College students, who share the same campus with the dental school, had even bigger adjustments to make. Many of the medical students were graduated and sent out into the real world earlier than expected to help treat patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Through everything, we were able to successfully graduate our inaugural class just last week,” Walinski told Dental Products Report. “So for the last month, we've been working on course completion through remote learning and remotely-proctored competencies. Even the final dental school accreditation process through CODA, which was originally scheduled in April, has been delayed by the pandemic.”

For high school and college seniors everywhere, in-person commencements planned for them in 2020 were either canceled or postponed. TCDM and New York Medical College hosted a virtual joint graduation on May 19. A follow-up celebration on May 27 featured both live and recorded tributes and fond memories with faculty and students. TCDM does plan to conduct an in-person celebration down the road to more appropriately recognize the graduates, Walinski says. Click here to see a video of the commnecement.  

Despite the unusual hurdles thrown their way, this year’s inaugural graduating class of 103 students at TCDM has turned out to be quite successful.

“Another time sensitive thing they have to be concerned about is in New York you are required to complete a residency for a year before you are licensed,” he explains. “Those residencies start June 1. Every student who wanted a position matched or post-matched, which is very fortunate considering that this year the number of applicants increased significantly because of the addition of our school. So, they did really well in their interviews and placement.”

It’s never easy to finish dental school, but this class at TCDM really had to be special. No one should be surprised to see some of these new graduates doing great things with the newest technologies in the dental world before long.