Dental Dean’s Lasting Legacy

While Dr. R. Lamont “Monty” MacNeil will be completing his 12 year tenure as dean of the UConn School of Dental Medicine this June, his impact will continue as a faculty member after he completes a sabbatical experience.

MacNeil is most proud of UConn’s distinctiveness as a dental school and the continuance of its 50 year history of excellence in dental education, research, clinical care and community service.

“We are unique as a dental school,” said MacNeil, describing it as a place where dental students learn in an integrated curriculum with medical students and faculty actively collaborating in research and other endeavors with colleagues in the School of Medicine.

During his tenure MacNeil maximized the contributions of Bioscience Connecticut and transformed the physical infrastructure of the school with renovated academic areas, simulation training centers, state-of-the-art dental clinics, and advanced technology.

“The physical renewal we have accomplished here lifts a heavy burden off the next generation of faculty and school leaders,” said MacNeil. “The focus can now be on high-caliber people and programs, by attracting the best faculty, staff and students, and supporting the already talented people we have to keep our school on the leading edge. Our school has amazing faculty mentors and leaders, so people early in their academic careers can come here and be successful.”

MacNeil believes that the School has a bright future. He sees further growth in inter-professional training for students and residents with their colleagues in the other health professions and envisions faculty demonstrating their competency as extenders of the primary care team and introducing a greater medical or general health care dimension to their clinical activities.

“We are the perfect place for such experimentation because of our integrated structure and our academic interests,” said MacNeil. “We should be the school testing new approaches and new models, being the leaders in this new world of collaborative health care.”

He also notes the many avenues for faculty to bring their ideas and discoveries into action, with UConn Health’s new incubator labs, entrepreneurial pursuit guidance, and a more robust campus amenable to wider scientific collaborations including with The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. “The key is looking beyond roadblocks and limitations and seeing the many opportunities that surround us and maximizing them.”

MacNeil will spend a large part of his upcoming sabbatical on the national stage as chair of the Board of the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), an organization with over 20,000 members and representing 76 U.S. and Canadian dental schools. ADEA will provide MacNeil with an opportunity to pursue a number of interest areas, including reform in national dental licensure, encouraging interest by students in academic careers, and expanding the international dialogue in dental education.

“I’ll maintain an office at ADEA headquarters and will be doing a fair amount of travelling for the association nationally and internationally this year, all great opportunities to advance discussion on these topics and, in parallel, promote UConn,” MacNeil said.

MacNeil’s greatest passion however, is in two additional areas: student assessment and the integration of dental care within larger medical or health systems. Both areas are critical priorities for dental education. “It’s been 20 years since dental education took the lead in converting to a competency-based education platform,” explained MacNeil. “As part of this, we devote huge amounts of time and effort to student assessment. It’s now time to look ahead and consider new, innovative methods, some emerging from other health professions. My hope is that is that we’ll bring thought leaders together this year to describe a path for the future.”

MacNeil greatest focus will be in researching the benefits of integrating oral health care into primary or general medical care systems. Several large national health care originations have done this and are reporting quite remarkable early outcomes, according to MacNeil.

“We now know that by reducing the inflammation burden of oral diseases, overall health outcomes are improved, especially for those suffering from chronic, inflammation-based diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and asthma,” said MacNeil. “This is also being seen through rather dramatic reductions in health care costs, both for acute and chronic care, in these groups. I hope to gain a deeper understanding of this interplay this year.” He will be working with ADEA and other organizations with the goal to formulate a national symposium on the topic. He also believes the implications to dental education will be profound.

In discussion of these new endeavors, MacNeil acknowledges that he probably embraces change a bit more readily than most, recognizing that change can be difficult for many people, even those in education and research.  “I guess I’d credit or blame that on my background. I come from pretty humble beginnings, part of the first generation in my family to attend college,” MacNeil shared. “Every step forward necessitated significant adjustment, so I guess I equate change with progress. The two don’t necessarily have to occur together but, from what I’ve seen, change and progress almost always go hand in hand.”

He adds: “Looking back, it has been quite humbling to be the dean of a dental school with such a great national reputation and part of such a distinguished university,” said MacNeil. “It has been a phenomenal experience and a privilege to work with the talented faculty, staff and students here.”

MacNeil joined the dental school as a graduate student in 1986 after six years in private practice. In 1998 he started his twenty year span on the school’s leadership team first as an associate dean, then as senior associate dean, and was named dean in 2007. He has shepherded the dental school through three perfect accreditation reviews, and witnessed the School of Dental Medicine’s national ranking rise from 18th to 11th in funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The School was awarded the prestigious William J. Gies Award for Achievement in 2016. MacNeil helped establish a new cross-campus Biomedical Engineering Department in partnership with the UConn Schools of Medicine and Engineering.

“My endpoint goal as dean was to leave the school in a better state than when I took office,” said MacNeil. “I am confident that has been accomplished. We are stronger than ever before and I know we will keep pushing the boundaries of dental medicine further to accomplish even more.”

UConn is expected to name its next dental dean this summer.