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Cecile Feldman (C’80 D’84 GD’85 WG'85)

Read our Q&A with Dr. Feldman to hear about her experience as a clinician and academic dentist. 

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Why did you choose to become a dentist and why did you choose Penn Dental?

CF: I chose to become a dentist because of the variety of knowledge and skills you must master to provide the best health care possible. My interests range from basic science, decision sciences, social sciences, art, and economics. There are few professions that combine all these things.

Penn Dental Medicine was the logical choice for me.I had been an undergraduate at Penn and was really enjoying my time in Philadelphia.As I decided to go to dental school during my second year, I was able to accelerate my studies and complete my undergraduate degree in three years.When the opportunity arose to stay in Philadelphia and pursue my dental studies at Penn, it was a no brainer.Penn Dental had an incredible reputation and alumni were leaders in the profession.Penn also has an innovative curriculum, which focused on comprehensive patient care, a novelty at the time.By staying at Penn, I was also able to continue pursuing a number of my passions. I played piccolo in the Penn Band, pursued an MBA in health care administration, and worked as a research fellow.

What has your experience been like working through the pandemic and leading a school through this crisis?

CF: Surreal is the world that comes to mind.I never thought that I would be overseeing the conversion of two of our dental clinics into a 24 hospital bed COVID-19 step down unit, and that it would be staffed by the Army.I never thought that we would be establishing a teledentistry and emergency service for an entire region after the state closed dental practices. I was so privileged to work with an incredible group of dedicated students, faculty and staff at the Rutgers University School of Dental Medicine.What we were able to accomplish, including implementation of an entirely new digital curriculum and the revamping of all of our patient care programs — while accommodating the needs of our student body and workforce — was truly remarkable.

What is your favorite part of being a dentist in academia? The most challenging?

CF: By far my favorite part of academia is working with truly exceptional, passionate and dedicated people. Universities are full of exceptionally bright individuals, from all sorts of backgrounds, with an immense variety of interests. Whether it be the Rutgers students, faculty and staff that I work with every day, or colleagues that I have gotten to know and work with throughout the country, it’s the people that make working in academia the best job in the world. You are always learning and always being challenged to go beyond your comfort zone. Each day brings new opportunities and new things to be excited about.

Was your intention to always go into academics and dentistry?

CF: When I first decided to pursue dentistry I was sure I wanted to own my own practice. But I changed my mind after having the opportunity to see what university life had to offer. I was extremely fortunate in that I was appointed as a research fellow when I was in dental school. As part of my fellowship, I worked with some really amazing people. I spent time in the University’s office of Planning Analysis, which was part of the President’s office, I worked on research projects at the Graduate School of Education and I was able to develop financial planning models for the University and the School of Dental Medicine. These opportunities provided a strong foundation for the work I do now. Because of this experience, I decided to stay in academics. It gave me an understanding of graduate education and enabled me to experience the exhilaration of discovery and sharing these discoveries with others.

Do you have any advice that could benefit future dentists?

CF: Don’t be afraid to try new things.Always remember that everyone has to do something for a first time.Throughout my career I have always been willing to try new things and get involved in projects or programs that I I knew nothing about.Because of this, I am never bored.I am always getting involved in new adventures, meeting new people, gaining new knowledge and developing new skills.

Anything else you would like to share?

CF: Don’t be afraid to pursue your passion.For me, it was going into academia.Never did I think that I would be dean of a school, yet now I have been dean for over 21 years.When people ask me, how do you know what you are passionate about? My answer is, find that something that makeseyes sparkle, that makes your heart beat faster, that keeps you up at night because you’re thinking of how to do it better, that makes you excited to get out of bed early in the morning to start working on a course or project. Those are signs of your passion.Nothing beats pursing your passion, for with passion comes excitement in life, and pursuit of excellence.