A Fresh Start: Reimagining Endodontic Education
For Dr. Ted Ravenel, endodontic program director at the Medical University of South Carolina, receiving the Endodontic Educator Fellowship award afforded his career a new beginning as a full-time educator, but the impact of the award was far more than just personal. Given means to take the reins of a training program, he introduced a new culture and fresh approach to bring much-needed patients and volunteers to a program in transition, which in turn drew the South Carolina endodontic community closer to the program and its trainees.
“When you’re in private practice, you see a lot of things you wish you could change,” Dr. Ravenel said. “We all realize education is the way to go with that.”
“What he did in the first few months onboard was really impressive,” remarked former MUSC post-grad program director Dr. Timothy Rohde. “He caught on really quick to the teaching aspect… He just had this overall big picture vision of things. Nothing stops him when he knows what he needs to do to reach that vision. I think that’s true leadership. Managers make sure things get done right, leaders make sure the right things are being done.
“He got right in with the research,” Dr Rohde adds. “He got the residents to start looking at this dynamic navigation system, got some projects going and applying for some research grants. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Most critically, Rohde asserts, Ravenel innovated a “game changer” — a new strategy for MUSC to ameliorate the chronic shortage of undergraduate student cases. Drawing on his own volunteer experience, Ravenel brought trainees and faculty to a community health center on rural Johns Island which serves a large immigrant population. The novel satellite-model approach expanded access to care, facilitated student competency certifications by securing the clinic’s accreditation, and forged closer interaction with students, all of which created a buzz throughout the dental school.
“Every time someone would come back from the Wednesday free clinic appointments, everyone would say it was the most enjoyable experience they’d ever had,” Dr. Ravenel recalls. “It’s a small school. Everybody knows everything that goes on. If you have something that works, everyone talks about it. The closest group we work with is the oral medicine faculty. It’s nice to be able to go down there and hear, ‘that free clinic you did, I keep hearing positive things about that.’ It makes them happy too.”
Through his friendship with a volunteer leader in the South Carolina Association of Endodontists, and his own personal outreach recruiting volunteers, Dr. Ravenel engaged local colleagues’ interest in serving as instructors and providing shadowing opportunities in their offices. He secured much-needed donations of supplies, including a microscope, for the community clinic, and hosted CE courses for trainees and local specialists, which created vibrant connections for the program and its students.
“I’ve got two endodontists who are board certified coming in to do orals with my residents,” Ravenel says. “The number one thing people said was, ‘This is the first time anyone’s reached out to me. I’ve always wanted to help out, always wanted to be involved.’”
“You see yourself having been there, having the same struggles they have, and it’s nice to know you know a way out of the dark hole at this point in life,” observes Ravenel’s longtime friend Dr. Gregory Wiggins. “They can’t quite grasp that there is a way out of this dark hole, so you help them out, and hopefully give them some perspective--they tend to get discouraged at times when they shouldn’t be.”
“Dr Ravenel really made us feel part of the local endodontic community,” says Dr. Scott Loomis, who completed his MUSC residency in 2020 and now practices in Ontario, Canada. “I feel like I could go to Charleston now and call any local endodontist and they would remember because of Dr. Ravenel encouraging them to have a relationship with the residents.”
Bringing such a positive spirit, along with his many ideas about what to change, Ravenel believes that “if you shine a light and enjoy what you do, people see that and it gets them involved and excited. If you’re kind and patient with people, that will bring great rewards. People want to come to somebody they know is not going to take their head off, that they know has their best interest in mind.”
“Dr. Ravenel leads by example,” reflects Scott Loomis. “Having been in private practice for 20 years, he’s a very hands-on instructor who brings a very practical slant to the job. As a clinician, that’s where he truly shines. He walks the walk. He doesn’t micromanage, he allows the residents to grow and figure things out on their own, but he’s with you every step of the way. You have his undivided attention as a resident. We had a very strong clinical education--we saw lots of patients. If we had to stay late, he’d stay late. He didn’t mail it in, he is so very invested in the program.”
During his resident reviews, Dr Ravenel says he talks about their strengths and weaknesses so trainees know to “use these strengths to help you, and let’s figure out a way around that limitation. In the end, it becomes again a positive thing that you’re trying to do to help them out. I just like talking to them and I like putting people at ease….”
“He’s always got your best interest at heart,” Dr. Loomis adds, “always unwavering in how he advocates for his residents. I’m proud to say he was my instructor, my mentor, and my friend.” After the pandemic restrictions ease up, “one of my first trips planned is back to Charleston to see Dr. Ravenel.”
While he’s only just beginning this new stage of his career, the Fellowship Award has proven to be money well spent. Over the next five years, the Foundation will support the critical role Dr. Ravenel plays in strengthening the specialty with $50,000 per year.
“The Foundation has made an investment in me, and I want to make a long-term investment in education,” Dr. Ravenel asserts. “It couldn’t have been done without y’alls support. The bottom line is, I thank you for everything. You’ve made my life significantly better. I’m in an exciting time in my career. I look forward to years and years of more fun things to come.”
In just one full training cycle, the Foundation’s investment has also sowed promising seeds for the future of endodontic education.
“I was in private practice for 20 years as a general dentist before going back to study endodontics. Teaching or an academic position was never a long-term plan of mine,” concludes Scott Loomis. “Dr Ravenel instilled in us as residents not only the importance of giving back to the profession, but how rewarding a teaching position can be. He changed my mindset completely. I’m going to work for a few years, get some real-life endo experience, and one day I’ll find a position because of his encouragement.”