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The Making of a Profession

Early in his career, Alfred LeRoy Johnson, D04, wrestled with the question of why the academic world had little respect for dental education. When he began dental school, predental education consisted of a high school equivalency examination, a high school diploma or one year of college. Neither research nor prevention was part of the curriculum. After graduating from Tufts, he would teach biological orthodontics at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania, but his subject met with little interest and he and his family ultimately settled in New York City where he earned his living as an orthodontist. Then, in 1926, an assessment of dental education conducted by a Columbia University chemist, William Gies, and funded by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, recommended at least two years of scientific training prior to dental school. Johnson was motivated to seek support from the Rockefeller Foundation to introduce the study of oral health problems into medical schools. His efforts were rewarded when programs were funded at Yale and at the University of Rochester. In 1942, Johnson was further recognized when he was appointed the first dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Today, his legacy lives on. Although Yale closed its dental program in 1942, the University of Rochester continues to educate dentists; its graduates include five deans of Tufts School of Dental Medicine. Alfred LeRoy Johnson was a catalyst for change in the education of dental researchers and a reformer of undergraduate curriculum; he helped create a profession in step with the research and the developments of the 20th century.

Adapted from a piece by Charles B. Millstein, D62, historian for the Tufts University Dental Association, that first appeared in the Dental Alumni Record, summer 1999.



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