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Chester Douglass - May 2014

Chester Douglass, D.M.D., Ph.D., is professor emeritus of oral health policy and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Douglass received his D.M.D. from Temple University in 1965 and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 1971. 

He has published more than 150 papers in referred journals covering a variety of topics in health policy, oral epidemiology and dental public health, in which he is a boarded specialist. He served as principal investigator in the New England Elders Dental study, which produced 19 important papers on the epidemiology of dental diseases in the elderly.

Douglass’s research also combines dental care policy and financing issues with oral epidemiology research. These studies have demonstrated the increase in need for dental care and the constriction in the supply of dentists as the US population grows in size, ages and becomes more diverse. 

He is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellowship program, past president of the American Board of Dental Public Health, past chair of the board of trustees of the Medical Foundation, and a founding member of the DentaQuest Foundation board of directors. Douglass served as chair of the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine from 1978 to 2008.

Douglass has been an active member of AADR since 1971. Further enhancing his membership experience, he has served on numerous IADR/AADR committees and chaired the IADR Behavioral, Epidemiologic and Health Services Research Scientific Group. He is a recipient of the IADR Distinguished Scientist Award for Behavioral Science and Health Services Research.

What motivated you to join AADR?
I joined AADR as a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The director of the program, Dr. David Striffler, introduced me to the opportunity to attend an IADR/AADR meeting and that led to my decision to join AADR. The first meeting I attended was in Houston, Texas, and it’s also where the IADR Behavioral, Epidemiologic and Health Services Research Scientific Group was formed by 20 of us. I was in the room when that Scientific Group was formed and I’ve been part of it my entire career.  

Describe your experience attending your first AADR Annual Meeting. 
I learned a lot at my first meeting, as a first-time attendee I become aware of the benefits of networking. One of my mentors who I met at the meeting was John Greene and he gave me important advice about navigating my first meeting. He even told me where I should stand so that I could meet people and network, which happened to be the registration area because everyone had to go there to check in for the meeting. I must have met at least 50 people just from standing in the registration area at that meeting and I’ve stayed in contact with most of them throughout my career. We all attend the AADR Annual Meetings to better understand our field and to learn who is making cutting-edge scientific contributions. 

How important has your AADR participation been to your career?
My AADR participation has been key and it has led to career opportunities. I’ve only had two positions but I got both of those positions through being known at IADR/AADR. I also obtained more than half of my post-doctoral fellows through connections I’ve made at AADR and IADR meetings, as well as several of my faculty. If you’re looking to build your department, you need to go to the meetings to meet the academic leaders. 

What do you find to be the most valuable benefit of AADR membership?
Being part of AADR has provided me with life-long, professional stimulation. If you’re not interacting on a national or global basis with your colleagues you can mislead yourself into thinking you know what’s going on. Unless you show up at the meetings, and listen and watch, you’re at risk of falling behind. The maintenance of your professional growth and really keeping up-to-date with your profession is important, and AADR provides opportunities for that to happen. That is one of the most valuable aspects of my AADR membership. 

What are some ways newer AADR members can become more involved in the Association?
First, you have to attend the meetings. In addition to the national meetings, you can be involved at the Section level. We’re very fortunate in New England because we have a strong regional section and we have regional meetings where the science is presented at a very high level. Participating in your section will also help you address issues that are happening in your section of the country. 


You’ve mentored many students and junior researchers throughout your career. What’s one of the messages you often give to future dental researchers?
One of the things I tell students is that they have to be willing to work nights and weekends. If you want a 32-hour a week job, this isn’t it. You have to show up, pay attention and put in the effort. Dental research is a vocation—a calling—not a job.  The interesting thing is that when you start showing success in your research you don’t even think of it as work. 


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