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‘One of the best leaders’

After 22 years, Dr. Richard W. Valachovic retires as ADEA president, CEO

May 10, 2019

By Kimber Solana

Dr. Richard W. Valachovic
Leader: Dr. Richard W. Valachovic speaks during the 2017 ADEA Annual Session and Exhibition in Long Beach, Calif. After 22 years, Dr. Valachovic is retiring as ADEA’s president and CEO on June 30.

For dental education, 1997 was a difficult period in time, recalls Dr. Richard W. Valachovic, president and CEO of the American Dental Education Association.

Six dental schools had closed in the previous decade while eight other schools had been considered for closure.

“And one more closed after I started,” he said.

Dr. Valachovic, at that time, had just taken on his leadership role of ADEA, then-called the Association of American Dental Schools.

Twenty-two years later, he says, the state of dental education is stronger than ever, in part due to ADEA’s work over the past two decades — from efforts in collaborating with the other health care education communities and advocating for dental education on Capitol Hill to reevaluating and restructuring the association’s strategic planning process.

Come June 30, Dr. Valachovic is retiring, leaving ADEA in what he sees as a better environment for dental education and the profession. While new challenges continue to arise, such as the speed of technological innovation, he said, it’s the right time to let a new president and CEO to assist the ADEA Board of Directors in the association’s work and goals in the coming years. ADEA announced in May it named Dr. Karen P. West as president and CEO beginning July 1.

“When I accepted the position, my plan was to stay for about five years and then return to academic dentistry,” he said, adding that more “gratifying” and “innovative” work prevented him from sticking to that original plan. “It has been challenging at times. It has always been rewarding. And it has been an honor to play my part.”

ADEA represents more than 20,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators from all of the U.S. and Canadian dental schools, advocating for public policy issues affecting dental educators, researchers and access to dental care.

Prior to joining ADEA, Dr. Valachovic’s experience focused on teaching, research, clinical practice and administration. He was an associate professor at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and served there as dean for clinical affairs, dean for government and community relations and director of postdoctoral education. In addition, he was chief of the dental service at the Harvard University Health Services and was an active investigator in the Health of the City Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Rick is one of the best leaders I’ve been around,” said Dr. R. Lamont MacNeil, past-ADEA chair of the Board of Directors. “Read any book about leadership and the qualities of a great leader, and I can say with assurance that he meets all the criteria. I joke with him often that I’d love to know where he buys his ‘human backup battery packs’ because he is tireless in his work.”

According to ADEA, significant advances mark Dr. Valachovic’s tenure at the association that benefitted dental and allied dental education and the oral health of the public.  Of particular note were:

  • The creation of the Innovative Leadership and Research Summits which brought together the dental deans and the chief academic officers of their parent institutions.
  • Collaborating with other dental and health professions to establish an Oral Health Initiative within the [Health Resources and Services Administration].
  • ADEA international women’s leadership conferences in France, Sweden, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Italy.
  • The first Global Congress on Dental Education in Prague in 2001, in Singapore in 2002, and Dublin in 2007.
  • The emergence of ADEA in debates on health care reform, health professions education, and higher education issues.
  • Efforts to address increased costs in dental education and advocating for student loan reform.

Dr. Valachovic also served as co-program director for the Robert Wood Johnson sponsored Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (2005-16) and Summer Health Professions Education Program (2016-18), creating opportunities for thousands of college students with disadvantaged backgrounds successfully improve their preparation for careers in the health professions.

“Very few in dentistry have had as great an impact on our profession over the past two decades,” said Dr. MacNeil. “Rick has helped shepherd us through new eras in learning theory, practice construct, technology, accreditation, assessment and many other ‘change areas.’ Our schools are better and stronger because of the programs he helped create at ADEA to assist our faculty and institutions adapt, and in many cases, lead in the field of health profession education.”

After retirement, Dr. Valachovic said he plans to take three months off and decide what to do next.

“Dental education today is as strong as it has ever been,” he said.

Between 1997 and 2019, Nova Southeastern College of Dental Medicine became the first new dental school open in 24 years. Thirteen more subsequently opened.

“We enjoy a robust applicant pool,” he said. “We attract people who want to get in a caring profession. Our schools are stronger, with some excelling in their focus whether that’s research or improving access to care.”

However, Dr. Valachovic said, he expects to find some way to continue helping advance dental education and the profession.

“I’m going to miss the camaraderie of the community. There are so many special people in dental education that I’ve interacted with and I’m going to miss that opportunity to do that in a daily basis,” he said. “But I’ll be back in some way to continue to work in the health professions in some capacity.”