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Dynamic Duo: Drs. Melissa Drum and Sara Fowler Inspire at Ohio State

Melissa M. Drum, D.D.S., M.S., and Sara M. Fowler, D.M.D., M.S., are leading the endodontic program at The Ohio State University with passion for endodontics and teaching, sincere concern for students and a little humor. As the director of the advanced endodontics program and the director of predoctoral endodontics, respectively, Drs. Drum and Fowler are inspiring new generations of dentists and endodontists. They took some time to reflect on their paths to education and the mentors along the way who helped shape their careers.

Drs. Sara M. Fowler (left) and Melissa M. Drum (right)


When did you decide to become an educator? What drew you to this career?

Melissa Drum: I always wanted to teach and knew going into residency that I wanted a career in academics. When I interviewed for the residency and said "I'd like to teach," I actually meant it! Being able to combine the practice of endodontics, teaching and research seemed like an ideal fit for me.

Sara Fowler: I completed Ohio State's Endodontic Fellowship before being accepted into the graduate program, and that is where I got the "teaching bug." The fellowship involves a tremendous amount of clinical teaching and working with dental students. I found that to be very rewarding, and Melissa (who was my instructor, Dr. Drum, at that time!) always says she knew I was going to be a full-time educator from that point on. I just love the educational/academic setting. There are a lot of educators in my family, so I've always appreciated the profession and have seen the personal fulfillment that comes from being a teacher. It gives me the opportunity to do so many different things - classroom teaching, clinical teaching, research, practicing endodontics, etc. - there is never a dull moment!

Who are the educators and mentors who have influenced your work?

MD: Dr. Donna Mattscheck was the first endodontic educator/mentor who influenced me to enter the field. She was such a great example of effective leadership, the importance of having a voice and using it to positively affect the future of endodontics. I also could not have asked for a better mentor than Dr. Al Reader. His passion for teaching and research - for asking questions and looking for answers that will lead to better outcomes in both patient care and in teaching residents - is a big inspiration to me. Dr. Bill Meyers' ability to connect with people and exemplify the importance of showing people how much you care has always stuck with me. I've learned so much about being a good mentor from Dr. John Nusstein's mentorship of me. He has shown me how working alongside others and helping students achieve their goals is often more satisfying than achieving my own goals.

SF: My interest in endodontics was sparked by Dr. Linda Baughan during dental school at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Her educational style - straightforward, methodical, enthusiastic - was part of what drew me to the field, and now I sometimes catch myself saying or doing things the way she did. I'm so thankful for her early influence. Obviously, at Ohio State, you can't turn around without running into an amazing endodontic educator. Dr. Bill Meyers taught me that being myself is enough, Dr. Al Reader taught me (and reminds me almost daily) that it's all about the research, Dr. John Nusstein exemplifies ambassadorship and leadership, and Dr. Melissa Drum inspires me to think. Melissa saw the potential in me and makes me tap into that next level of dedication to students and learning.

What is your biggest challenge as an educator?

MD: It can be a challenge to work within the higher education system where it feels like you have very little control some days. The university system is quite large, so getting comfortable with your place in that system can take some time.

SF: I struggle with trying to hold every dental student to the standard to which we hold our endodontic residents. I have to remind myself that not every student is going to be as enthusiastic about endodontics as I am. I want everyone to love it, but that is not a realistic expectation. Also - Melissa warned me about this one - figuring out how to spend my "enormous" salary is quite the challenge. I'm open to ideas - anyone?

What do you enjoy most about your work as an educator?

MD: The people. Being part of residents' lives, watching their development and having a sense of pride in their success is so meaningful. Another "favorite" aspect is all the meetings and going through accreditation - that's also quite fulfilling.

SF: I agree - it's the people that really make a difference. I'm so lucky I get to work with wonderful people who are not only mentors and colleagues, but also friends. As predoctoral director, it's so amazing to see students progress through the four years of dental school - I literally get to see their dreams come true before their eyes, so that's pretty special. Melissa's right, though; it's the meetings that really make it all worthwhile.

Considering a career in education? The AAE's Educator Center offers accounts from current educators and other resources to help you decide if teaching is the right path for you.