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Lois K. Cohen - November 2016

Lois K. Cohen, Ph.D. serves as a consultant & Paul G. Rogers Ambassador for Global Health Research since her retirement from U.S. government service in 2006 after 42 years of service. She earned a B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.S. and Ph.D. and Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Additionally, she studied at the Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad, Jerusalem, Israel, and has a teacher’s diploma from Gratz College, Philadelphia, Pa.  

She is a sociologist whose research and health science administration career included service as the director of extramural research, associate director for international health and director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Dental, Oral & Craniofacial Research and Training, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Having authored more than 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited four books on the social sciences and dentistry, she co-directed the WHO International Collaborative Studies of Oral Health Systems. She co-chairs the Friends of the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention, and serves on the boards of the Alliance for Oral Health across Borders, the Edward B. Shils Entrepreneurial Fund, the Global Advisory Council of the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society and the Caplin Family Charities. 

She provides consultation to the NIH, the World Health Organization and its regional offices in Africa and the Americas, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, various universities and professional associations and others in the area of global health through oral health. Lectures and awards in her honor are presented annually at the IADR Behavioral, Epidemiological and Health Services Research Group symposium in conjunction with the IADR General Session, and at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Pa., and Harvard University’s School of Dental Medicine in Boston, Mass. 

As an active IADR member since 1968, Cohen has served on several IADR Committees. She is a recipient of the IADR Distinguished Scientist Award in Behavioral Science and Health Services Research and the IADR Distinguished Service Award, which acknowledge her scientific contributions to the field.  

An in-depth look into Cohen's career and research background is available in a JDR Discovery! article titled "The Emergence of the Social and Behavioral Sciences in Dentistry: Lois Cohen as Principal Architect."

How did you first learn about AADR and what motivated you to join?
In my first Federal government position at the Division of Dental Public Health and Resources, there were mentors around me who were already engaged in research and presenting their research at the IADR meetings. They invited me to attend an IADR meeting in D.C. and that was my first exposure, stimulating me to join the Association. During that initial meeting, I met other researchers who were psychologists, social psychologists, education researchers, social epidemiologists, anthropologists and  economists who were looking at dental questions: it was a unique networking opportunity for a newcomer sociologist for sure. I knew then that I wanted and needed to be part of that community. 

What is the highlight of your AADR membership experience? 
Perhaps the highlight of my AADR membership experience has been the opportunity to have been part of the creation of a formalized community of dental researchers interested in behavioral, social sciences and health services research. We petitioned IADR to form a Scientific Group. Initially we were called the Behavioral Scientists in Dental Research (BSDR). The group had since expanded to be renamed, Behavioral, Epidemiology and Health Services Research Group (BEHSR) and has truly become an international presence.  Involvement in a Scientific Group/Network provides a home and a platform for connecting with other colleagues with whom one shares research interests…within a national or regional sphere but clearly has facilitated international collaborative research initiatives as well.

What is the value of being able to cross national borders to collaborate with other scientific disciplines to advance dental, oral and craniofacial research?
In my experience, it’s at that nexus where you cross disciplines that you begin to think in novel and creative ways. When adding the dimension of crossing national and regional borders, we suddenly learn even more options potentially useful for solving some of the issues encountered in our research space. The BEHSR in itself is a multidisciplinary group in its membership and has evolved in many cases to stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations.  For example, when faced with the challenge to suggest dental options for a national health program in the U.S., there were many more examples of how dental services were integrated into health service delivery systems outside the US than inside the US. Thus, the imperative to discuss and then launch international collaborative research projects to respond to those questions about comparative effectiveness was enabled by AADR and IADR members.  Those projects enabled analyses of structural characteristics of nationally developed systems in relation to oral health outcomes. That was for me the driver to collaborate across disciplines, both social sciences and epidemiology, in order for that investigative need to be met. BSDR and BEHSR were invaluable in identifying potential collaborators to plan, implement and sustaining communications and interactions over the course of those and other projects.

Why is it important for AADR members to submit their research findings to the JDR and JDR Clinical & Translational Research?
It’s always important to communicate with your peers for feedback and enhancement of a research project. In the case of dental research, these two journals are highly regarded and widely read.  I enjoy both journals and am really excited about the new journal because it provides yet another opportunity for people to publish behavioral and social sciences research as such research tends to address implementation questions. 

What would you say to other AADR members to encourage them to get involved in AADR grassroots efforts and advocacy?
One of my messages is that global is local and local is global. The advocacy that AADR does and what we do in the US and Canada in research is really part of global research. We are in a unique position to learn from each other, and the lessons to be learned can come from anywhere across the globe. The potential for solutions comes from looking globally and implementing locally. Lessons learned locally need to be communicated and discussed globally. As a Paul G. Rogers Ambassador for Global Health Research, a title I received when I retired from full-time federal service, really launched a new stage in my career. Eager to share my own experiences garnered from being engaged in international collaborative research, I felt and still feel that investment by governments and other donors in global oral health research is insufficient to meet the challenges of the global burden of oral and other related diseases and dysfunctions. The return on investment can be even greater when we join forces with multiple research sponsors, thus leveraging small investments to reap larger rewards in terms of answers to our research questions. One of the key deficits is the paucity of a trained oral health research workforce in parts of the world where research is needed. Building capacity in low-resourced places world-wide is essential if we truly aspire towards productive inter-disciplinary research teams. The opportunity for finding an answer to a problem might actually be in a place lacking in personnel trained to engage in the research. This is both a tragedy and a lost opportunity.

What’s a message you would give to dental students to encourage them to pursue research?
Learning how to do research has lifetime benefits for your career, no matter the career pathway you choose. Even if you decide against a dental research career, the idea of developing critical analytic skills accrued from training in the scientific method is a very useful skill set to possess. Practicing clinical dentistry in this new age requires an ability to assess evidence for each and every intervention and procedure. How to read the literature and analyze the utility of the results prepares the clinician to be a continuous learner, up-dating his/her skills and approach to problem-solving. Students need to learn how to think as a researcher thinks as the scientific method guides us all and AADR certainly helps to reinforce those notions and feed our imaginations! The excitement that comes from this process of discovery might actually become an incentive to opt for more involvement in research, either full-time or part-time. In any case, research training equates with scholarship and I would hope the profession will prosper and grow as scholarly pursuits are enhanced with the help of professional associations as the AADR. 

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