In addition to each member of the Eastman Institute for Oral Health Class of 2021 crossing the stage to mark their many accomplishments during the recent graduation ceremony, there was much more to celebrate.
After a long and challenging year, the group of 79 graduates was able to enjoy the ceremony together in person, unlike the previous year when graduation fell amidst the peak of the Covid pandemic. In a spacious room, residents and a few faculty from each department were present, while more than 350 friends and family from Greece, Spain, Iraq, Colombia, Brazil, Canada, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, China and many other countries were watching live.
“Whether you’ve been here one year or seven years, you and your families should be very proud of all that you’ve accomplished,” EIOH Director Eli Eliav, DMD, PhD, told the Class of 2021, which includes the largest number of residents earning their master’s degree. “You have made many sacrifices. Your time here were not easy years.
“The last 15 months were different than anything else we experienced in our lives,” Dr. Eliav continued. “Despite the scientific breakthroughs and all the advances, we are still vulnerable to deadly viruses that can completely shut down economies and disrupt our lives completely.”
But advances in science allowed the medical community to develop an efficient vaccine within less than a year, an amazing thing, Dr. Eliav said, crediting the vaccine for being able to be together and mask free for the ceremony.
He reminded the audience how history repeats itself, and how the Eastman Dental Dispensary founded in 1917 to help those facing barriers to dental care, stayed open during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.
“That same dispensary is now called Eastman Institute for Oral Health,” he continued. “While it has changed a lot over the last 104 years, there are many things that remain the same. Among them is our commitment to improve access to care. To provide much needed treatment to those who need it.”
When most dental offices were closed during peak months of Covid, EIOH helped more than 100 patients every day- many who traveled long distances because they could not get care anywhere else. Patients traveled from 42 out of the 62 total New York State counties to receive treatment at Eastman.
“Among the many challenges, you showed great resilience throughout the last year and helped patients when they were vulnerable, scared and in pain,” Dr. Eliav told the residents. “All the while, we were dealing with the lack of clear guidelines, staff shortages, fear and stress.”
The impact of Covid will last far into the future, Dr. Eliav cautioned.
“Taking care of patients with infectious diseases is nothing new for dentists,” he reminded the group. “Because dentists have years of experience and knowledge in this area, we can adjust quickly and continue treating patients safely.”
The future of the profession is relying on them, concluded Dr. Eliav, who hopes the graduates will carry on the Eastman legacy.
“We need your fresh thinking, your unique perspectives and your leadership, and you will need to address the critical issues in front of us,” he added. “As an EIOH graduate, the legacy involves embracing innovation, leadership, and collaboration. And whatever part of the world you choose to work, I hope you continue to improve access, break barriers and provide excellent treatment – without compromise – for all people.”
Many awards were given to deserving faculty, staff and residents during the ceremony.
The Director’s Award was given to Dr. Robert Quivey and Dr. Lee Pollan.
Dr. Robert Quivey is a widely published and accomplished scientist in the area of S. mutans. His work, which has been funded continuously for 35 years, has provided new insights into how cavities form. He served as the director for the Center for Oral Biology for 11 years before retiring this year. Under his leadership, the Research Training and Education grants from the NIDCR were renewed twice and supported more than 90 trainees. He played an integral role in helping foster collaboration between basic and clinical and translational research.
The Shaffer Devries Award is given to acknowledge significant contributions made by our staff for their excellence in administrative operations or clinical service, and this year, we have two very deserving recipients.
With 45 years of service as a dental assistant, Barb Birecree worked in General Dentistry for 15 years and then Orthodontics for the last 30 years. Patients, parents, residents, faculty and staff find Barb to be kind hearted, supportive and very knowledgeable. Her professionalism and experience have benefited the department countless times and she is always willing to try new things to improve operations and the patient experience. She has earned the respect of many, and is always happy to help co-workers and other departments.
Another recipient of the Shaffer-Devries award is Christie Rodriguez, who has worked at the University Dental Faculty Group ever since it opened 20 years ago.
Her excellent communication skills and interactions with patients and employees led to her promotion to lead dental assistant.
She brings professional, steady leadership and a calm, measured attitude to problem solving. She took on a great deal of extra work during the pandemic and also took it upon herself to learn almost every aspect of dentistry, while providing exceptional support and service to patients, faculty and staff. She’s a fast learner and sincerely cares for patients. Her skills, knowledge and dedication continue to make her instrumental to the faculty practice.
The Caton Fellowship Award was given to Dr. Elli Ana Kotsailidi.
Stanley L. Handelman Fellowship Award
Training future leaders in dentistry is at the core of the Eastman mission. Dr. Stan Handelman, widely known as the Father of Postdoctoral General Dentistry, established a Fellowship fund to provide support to students and residents interested in pursuing a dental academic career. To date, more than 100 Eastman alumni, faculty and friends have contributed to the fund.
This award is not given out each year, but only when an exemplary resident or student, such as this year’s awardees Dr. Tamar Marzouk and Dr. Camilo Leal Escobar have been identified as truly embracing the spirit of the Handelman fund.