For the past several years, students and faculty at the Stony Brook dental school on Long Island have been trying to get both the school's and university's administration to deal with chronic problems, including mismanagement, bullying, harassment, and other issues. In 2017, an external review of the school was ordered, based on anonymous accusations (some of which I reproduce below.)
A lot of the criticisms were directed at Mary Truhlar, the dean of the dental school. Truhlar finally stepped down last year. But the problems only continued under the new dean, Allan Kucine. As evidence, just last week, February 18, students at the dental school wrote to Vincent Iacono, the school's director of postdoctoral education, and Hossein Bassir, director of advanced education program in peridontics, to again raise their concerns. I have redacted a couple of names of staff who are reportedly trying to do their best under the circumstances:
Dear Dr. Iacono and Dr. Bassir,
We are writing to follow up on the concerns raised during Tuesday’s seminar, with regards to the clinical workflow. The intention of this email is not to blame anyone, but rather bring awareness to these issues we are facing, in hopes of improvement. Below is a list of the issues that have been previously discussed.
1. Surgical Materials:
- Residents are required to submit material lab orders 2 weeks in advance, and are still not receiving the appropriate materials. Therefore, the respect and trust in this rule is broken.
- When any changes are made to the surgical procedure, it is usually at least a 25 minute wait to get the appropriate supplies. If we are lucky. Often times, the appropriate supplies are not in stock and we must treatment plan with the materials available rather than what is best for the patient. Usually the right implant sizes are not available, and as you know, bone graft is sparse in this periodontal program.
- Lisa’s absence should NOT be used as a convenient excuse to lack of materials or inaccessibility to existing materials. The flow of materials should depend on systems in place, NOT an individual.
- These material issues have not been improved upon despite discussing them in a meeting with Dr. Zove and _______ months ago (November 3, 2020). This problem has only worsened in recent months.
2. Our perio assistants (______ and ______) are constantly being pulled to different departments when we have less than two surgeries per session. Therefore, they do not have time to re-stock materials (i.e. suction tips, gauze, mirrors, exam kits, and many other materials that we use in clinic). We need them to be present in the perio department during these times in order for them to maintain the perio clinic.
- Additionally, they do not have time to sterilize our equipment. It is not unusual to have to wait up to 2 hours for certain equipment to be sterilized when the patient is in the chair waiting. For example, a resident this past month utilized a spoon excavator to elevate the Schneiderian membrane during a sinus augmentation procedure due to lack of sterilized equipment.
3. Residents do not have access to the surgical rooms and therefore are unable to set up for our patients prior to 9AM. It is imperative to have early access to these rooms in order to set up for sedation, implants, or sinus augmentation cases. Often times patients are brought to our chairs prior to 9AM, and prior to our access to the supplies to set up. Our patients have to watch us set up around them. This is very unprofessional and uncomfortable for the patient. We recently had an incident where a very anxious patient was watching the sedation being set up around her and voiced her discomfort to the residents.
- When an assistant comes early to give us access to the rooms and supplies, there are only a few minutes to set up for all 9 residents. Possible solutions include giving the residents access to the rooms, or allowing us to set up the day before.
4. We do not have enough x-ray sensors for 9 residents. With multiple surgeries and consultations going on, we often take the x-ray sensor from one patient’s mouth to another with only a cavicide wipe in between. Additionally, appointments are longer due to the wait time on the only available sensor.
- It has become common practice to receive consults without a complete FMS. Pre-doc and GPR providers should order FMS prior to referring to perio for a consultation. Often we have to send the patients back to the radiology department for an FMS or take the FMS on our own (which is difficult when we are all sharing a sensor.) Moreover, if we are taking FMS on our own, it defeats the purpose of having a radiology department at SDM.
5. The sedation experience provided in the program is severely inadequate. After spending a month on anesthesia rotation during first year, we are not doing sedations until we are third years when it is a rush to get our 20 requirements in time. This gap between the anesthesia rotation and our actual clinical experience severely weakens our anesthesia experience.
- Last minute sedation cancelations from Dr. Reiner has been a persistent issue since before COVID. When a sedation is canceled last minute, we are unable to fill the session due to the policy of having our patients COVID tested for every surgery. Also, that patient is rescheduled for a later date, taking a time slot away from a different patient.
- Since we do not have to have a nurse during sedation, can Dr. Reiner access the drugs in the cabinet? Depending on a third party from a different department can delay starting and finishing sedation cases.
- We are unaware of who is responsible for re-stocking the sedation materials (i.e. oxygen tank refill, 22-guage needle, tourniquet, etc). Please clarify whose responsibility this is because it seems like nobody is held accountable, and the nurse from oral surgery gets frustrated whenever we ask her for the materials.
6. If there are more than two surgeries going on, who is responsible for assigning the assistants? Often in these situations, we have to find ______ (who is hard to find) to get assistants. The patient and surgical providers often wait for the assistants which drastically delays treatment. It seems like nobody is held accountable for ensuring there are assistants assigned to surgeries. Our schedules are readily available to the clinic administration and therefore assistants should be available and assigned beforehand.
7. We have already spoken to you many times about our issues regarding Therese and the extra barrier in scheduling patients. It still stands that there have been inconsistencies with our schedules, unequal delegation of cases, disorganization of our rosters, and unprofessional behavior in front of patients. While her job is very difficult, help must be provided in order for us to stay busy and productive. It is disheartening that the amount of clinical experience we receive depends on the amount of responsibility we are willing to shoulder from the front desk. In the end, Therese may have a greater impact on our education than any faculty due to her direct control on the type and number of cases we encounter. We need someone in our department to help with screening and equal delegation of cases.
Your periodontal residents are going through all these issues every day in order to treat patients. We do not get paid to work in clinic, rather we pay the school for a “clinic usage fee” for us to perform surgery. The commitment to providing excellent surgical therapy to our patients is stressful in-of-itself. Therefore the accumulation of these administrative burdens are absolutely overwhelming. Clearly, meetings have not solved these issues, as they have been discussed many times dating before COVID. Please respond with solutions to these problems as we feel our clinical experience continues to suffer. Please help your residents.
It was the strong clinical reputation of this program and the experience promised to us during our interviews that led to all us ranking Stony Brook highly. As all nine residents sit to discuss these issues, we cannot help but feel scammed in our education.
[Signed by periodontic residents at the dental school]
I linked above to an article in the Stony Brook newspaper, The Statesman, which mentioned that the external review in 2017 was prompted by anonymous allegations the university had received. As background, here are some key emails in which the allegations were laid out, beginning in September 2016:
You are receiving this letter on behalf of the vast majority of the students enrolled as Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDS) candidates at Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine. There have been a great number of events that have transpired over the past few years that have resulted in a severely compromised education, as well as a hostile work and learning environment in both clinical and academic respects. Our current administration is widely understood to be the cause of these problems due to their incompetence and overwhelming selfishness. For fear of retaliation against current students and faculty by the current administration, names have been omitted when possible. The need for this disclosure should illustrate the gravity of the circumstance.
After careful examination of experiences of the classes of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 throughout the current administrative term, we would like to express the utmost surprise and utter disappointment in administrators’ quality of service not only to the student body, but faculty and staff as well. They certainly do not match that expected at the highest levels of academia that embody the SUNY system. Some of these individuals have performed so poorly that we cannot help but feel that there must have been some major mistake during their appointment.
There has been an abnormally large faculty turnover (over 15 faculty departures) throughout this timeframe – presumably as a result of the established hostile work environment and incompetence of the administration, to say the least. Full-time tenured faculty who have been employed by the School of Dental Medicine for years have been leaving from a variety of specialty departments leading to frequent situations in which their appointed replacements do not have credentials nor experience to fulfill their duties properly; that is if they have been able to be recruited at all. Individuals who have no academic background whatsoever are being promoted into positions that they are unqualified to hold.
Specifically, in the Departments of Prosthodontics and Periodontics, faculty who were very prominent in their fields have all “coincidently” left or been forced to leave their positions in such a short timeframe. The reasons for many of their departures are speculative – this is as a result of the failure of transparency and closed-door decisions made throughout the school. Currently, there is a non-prosthodontic specialist appointed as the head of the Prosthodontics & Digital Imaging Department. Additionally, there are a number of dentists that do not have the qualifications to hold their positions as program directors and department heads. Such mistakes can and have resulted in compromised patient care. The Dean of Informatics/IT, while an oral surgeon, has no background in technology; members of the IT department cannot report any sort of technical issues because their superior is in a position that is completely nonsensical.
Far more concerning is the fact that we have a psychologist who is the Dean of Education. There is a widespread acknowledgment between faculty and students that she is not qualified nor suited for the position to which she was appointed – all for the sake of filling a vacancy. She is responsible for writing letters of recommendation for graduating students’ application to postdoctoral programs, although she truly has no relationship with these students nor does she make any effort to facilitate their academic or professional success. She claims to have research interests on our University web page that “involve employing psychological theories to investigate adaptation to chronic illness, stress and coping, and the promotion of health behaviors”. She has done nothing to address such issues for her own students, and this promise for active research is absent. Her “iPad initiative” she has forced upon the current first year class, where each student has a tablet computer to aid their learning during clinic appointments, has been reported to be of no benefit whatsoever by the class. Not only does it make no sense to have such devices when computers are already readily available in the clinic area for each student, but executing proper infection control on such devices, especially once beginning a procedure, is not possible. Her predecessor, Dr. Paquette, embodied the role of student advocate and very well deserved his title of Dean of Education. He made an active effort to facilitate the educational career of his students and also to know each and every one of his students. It is appalling how far in the opposite direction his replacement has gone.
The current Dean herself, Dr. Mary Truhlar, is not an academic. She has no presence within the school and has allowed it to continue to collapse under her lack of management, doing absolutely nothing to improve the school. The ongoing promotion of non-academic individuals into positions of considerable responsibility is a major causative factor in bringing about the state of disarray we are presented with today. She has fostered an unreceptive and argumentative work environment through the spread of malicious gossip about her own faculty, most of which has no business in a professional setting. She has had a number of lawsuits against her in the past, including for racial discrimination. The very “search committee” that was assembled to appoint a dean made no effort to fulfill their purpose, as it was made up of individuals who either knew nothing of the school and of its people or were promoted by the very person they were supposed to be reviewing for the position of Dean. All of these individuals been promoted to positions that they are not qualified for. That “committee” was comprised of Basil Rigas, Lisa Benz-Scott, Cordia Beverly, David Krause, Ann Nasti, Laura Valenti, Lee Xippolitos, Steven Zove, Steve Kess, John Riley, and Lindsay Bevis. The vast majority of existing faculty at the School of Dental Medicine would not even recognize eight of the aforementioned individuals. Steve Kess is employed by Henry Schein, and it can only be seen as a conflict of interest for such an individual to be involved in selection of the dean. There is absolutely no justification to have search committee members who are affiliated with companies that provide materials for students and clinic. The clinic administration supports these companies and the students pay for these materials. The few members of the search committee who are actually dentists have been promoted under this administration. Dr. David Krause, a highly respected educator and world renowned researcher who has been at Stony Brook for years, has since been pushed out with the downsizing of the anatomical sciences division. Regardless, there is a complete lack of accountability for these people whose actions have brought the school great detriment. Professors who have been at the institution for years, who have been pillars of their respective departments, have been pushed out. There is question to the validity of these choices, and concern that proper appointment protocol was compromised. Vice President Kaushansky himself has stated that Dr. Truhlar has been his dentist for over twenty years; the cast of individuals tasked with “selecting” a dean does not seem to be anything within the realm of impartial. Members of the search committee itself have even stated that the committee was a sham and that Dr. Truhlar’s appointment was already decided without their consultation. Dr. Truhlar has promoted people who have supported her acquisition of her position and creates positions based on her own interests. Two chairs of endodontics have left the school because of her. Candidates for heading the Department of Prosthodontics have declined taking the position because Dr. Truhlar would not allow them to have any authority. No longer do professionals who have the appropriate academic and clinical background wish to remain at the institution, as the environment Dr. Truhlar has created is understood to be toxic and hostile.
Another major concern lies within the method of selection of students to participate in outreach both in the United States and abroad. Active and departing faculty members and staff have confirmed that there has been gender discrimination and favoritism taking place during selection for these outreach missions. Students have also been discouraged from taking part in these outreach trips for a variety of reasons, one of which being the inconvenience that appropriate filing of paperwork would pose to the Office of Education.
Students generally have a collective 4 weeks of what normally would be vacation time, and under new policy, students are expected to seek academic enrichment in the form of externships during this time. This makes it unfeasible to visit family and loved ones. It is critical to note that nearly all other dental schools allot time for these externships for their students throughout their academic year. They are aware of the importance these externships play in enriching a predoctoral student’s educational experience, as well as the tremendous benefit these experiences provide in directing their professional careers – namely keeping students competitive when applying to postdoctoral programs.
There have been a variety of instances where multiple students have been affected by religious discrimination. In particular, Jewish students normally observe Shabbat on Friday at sunset. Sunset occurs quite close to 4:00pm during the winter months. In order for students to arrive home in time for this religious observance, it is sometimes necessary to leave 15 to 45 minutes early from the clinic session, as some students live a considerable distance away. A policy was enacted that if they were to do leave prior to half of the clinic session (even when finishing early), they would be penalized for missing the entire clinic session, when that was not the case. This has occurred despite these students completing the necessary clinical work required on that date. This resulted in them needing to make up clinic days during our break periods, further impeding their time to partake in the aforementioned externships or to visit family. Over spring break and on the Wednesdays in which they could have had off in the latter months of May and June, this policy only affected Jewish students.
There has also been a case where a student has undergone a battle with cancer and has been a victim of sexual assault. The Office of Education has utterly failed to adequately address this situation. It is appalling and totally unacceptable when an administrator holds the credentials of a psychology doctorate that such an office could fail so miserably in addressing the needs of a student who has undergone both a traumatic event and difficult treatment for a major illness. Not only has she failed to be present for meetings with this student, but the student was held accountable for missing these meetings. In reality, the Office of Education had rescheduled this meeting without providing any notice to the student. This student was brought up for possible dismissal. The grounds for dismissal which were presented to the student were completely unjustified and have no precedence whatsoever. This student was informed his only other alternative would be for him to repeat the entire third year curriculum. There is no precedence for such a case. There has been an instance from the Class of 2015 where a student began a procedure on a pediatric patient without the administration of anesthesia in which this student was only required to remediate the pediatric curriculum for a short time. Another instance from the same class involved a student who was severely deficient in periodontic requirements and was only required to remediate that particular course. A third and more recent instance from the Class of 2016 involves a student who was severely deficient in all requirements and was given special allowances to the point where this student was allowed to graduate. It is understood that this student was a liability to the School of Dental Medicine, and that it was more convenient to get rid of this student instead of ensuring his competency as a dentist upon program completion.
Other concerns that have voiced by previous and current classes that have continued to go unaddressed include the exorbitant amount of money needed to be paid for students’ kits. Required kits range in cost between $10,000-15,000 depending on Henry Schein pricing and class year status. The primary problem lies with the fact that many of these items are completely unnecessary. Many items are not used whatsoever in preclinical coursework, and many of the materials expire before the time in which they can even be used based on class scheduling. Additionally, the amount of money wasted on hiring part-time faculty would be better suited in retaining the few quality full-time faculty we have left. With additional regards to finances, money has been spent unnecessarily to renovate administrative offices instead of investing these finances in appropriate student and clinic resources – for example: clinic chairs in disrepair and the student wet lab in shambles.
There has been a closed-door policy enacted by the clinic offices without review or oversight leading to a situation in which students can no longer resolve their clinic concerns in person. The implementation of this new policy happens to coincide with an unsurprisingly all-time high of clinic audits and flags. When attempting to resolve these same concerns via the new recommended method of email, these emails go unanswered for months.
The “ten-year strategic plan” set forth for 2010-2020 has fallen flat on its face. Its first goal of building a “new, state-of-the-art facility” has not even been touched upon and there is no progress towards this goal being achieved whatsoever. The second point describing research expansion has not advanced. If anything, active research at the School of Dental Medicine has suffered tremendously, lost its incentive, and become silent. Stony Brook University has always been known for its innovative and new-age research departments, and this current state of disrepair discredits that reputation at its core. It is unclear to the entire student body if the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery even partakes in any form of research. The outreach programs have not been strengthened as promised. In fact, they have been reduced significantly. An example of such is the damage to the Madagascar outreach mission with the recent forced leave of Dr. David Krause by the combined School of Medicine and School of Dental Medicine administrations. Students and faculty alike were devastated by his loss, as he was one of the most iconic individuals within the program. If one were to review the “SDM Ten-Year Strategic Plan” it is very apparent that very little has been done to follow through on its promises by the current administration; if anything can be said about the course of the school, it is that it has moved in the opposite direction.
It has been roughly two years since the current administration was put in place. On behalf of the student body, we advocate that the appropriate course of action necessary to stop this downward spiral of stagnation and regression of the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine would be the immediate termination or resignation of Dr. Mary Truhlar and Dr. Dolores Cannella and close review and if necessary, overhaul of the remaining administration. Their selfishness and incompetence have damaged the careers and reputations of their fellow faculty, staff, the institution, and most importantly, the students. Dentists who are academically qualified should hold positions of such responsibility in the School of Dental Medicine, not those who have been promoted by their friends and by corrupt appointment systems. We do not desire continued “farewell receptions” for faculty who benefit the school. We do not desire self-congratulatory notifications from the administration when new, inappropriate appointments have been made. We do not desire to publicize the downfall of the school of medicine in mediums such as social media platforms and news entities. We wish for a genuinely impartial effort to hire qualified professionals who can respect both faculty and students. We hope to bring attention to the need for immediate reform of the administration, as well as to prevent the illusion that nothing is wrong with this institution when that is the furthest thing from the truth. We write to you in an attempt to stand up against the hypocrisy and corruption that pervade Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine for the sake of its faculty and students alike. We want to be proud to be a part of it and to be able to say so with honesty.
Truly sincere, and in pursuit of integrity,
Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine Classes of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.
I expect that more such emails will be coming shortly, and I will update it as they do. It should be emphasized that everyone in the New York state administration, including Governor Cuomo, is aware of this situation, but obviously little has changed despite years of effort by the school's students, residents, and some faculty.