Remembering Interim Dean Judith Buchanan

Judith Buchanan in laboratory

Judith Buchanan, PhD, DMD, MS, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Restorative Sciences, passed away on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Buchanan was the School of Dentistry’s first female Interim Dean. Her tenure was lasting and her impact continues to be seen on the School of Dentistry to this day.

Dr. Buchanan began her career as a biochemist but changed to dentistry upon the completion of her biochemistry post-doctoral work in 1977. She received her DMD in 1980 from the University of Florida College of Dentistry, graduating first in her class, and eventually pursued teaching and research at the University of Mississippi and the University of Illinois.

Judith BuchananShe spent a good deal of her career in dental research, but she had a long-standing interest in the field of virtual reality and incorporating simulation technology into educational curricula. Under her leadership as Academic Dean, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine (1997-2005), the school became the first to incorporate virtual reality-based simulation clinics into its curriculum.

She came to the University of Minnesota in 2005. Throughout her tenure she contributed to various aspects of oral health education, among them dental education, curriculum development, simulation in dental education and interprofessional education. She served as a professor in the department of Restorative Sciences and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs before becoming the interim Dean.

Dr. Buchanan was an American Dental Association (ADA) accreditation consultant since 1995 and independently conducted Mock Site Accreditation visits since 1997 and served for 22 years in the military (in the National Guard and Army reserves) attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel in the National Guard. In 2003 she was deployed to run dental clinics in Bosnia and Germany.

Dr. Buchanan was responsible for the creation of 1Health, the University’s Interprofessional Education Program. “She was remarkable,” reflected Barbara Brandt, PhD, FNAP, Director of the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education, who worked with her to create and promote the school’s Interprofessional Education presence.

Dr. Buchanan’s leadership in the interprofessional space was a massive undertaking: she created the framework for interprofessional education at the University, introduced the first courses, and brought together leaders from across the state to make 1Health a reality.

In fact, Dr. Buchanan’s leadership was so remarkable that the University’s Academic Health Center was selected by the Carnegie Foundation as one of five Academic Health Centers to study during a 2010 conference on collaborative strategies in academia.

“Her leadership is what made all of this possible,” said Brandt.

“Her contributions to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and the oral health profession were many, and she will be missed,” said Interim Dean Keith Mays, DDS, PhD, MS.

Todd Thierer, DDS, MPH, associate dental director of HealthPartners, recalled how a conversation with Dr. Buchanan convinced him to move to Minnesota and take on the role of associate dean for clinical affairs. “I thought, wow, if there are people like her here, who are honest, and ethical, and do the right thing, this is the right place for me,” he recalled. “It cemented my decision to pursue this position."

Thierer recalled Dr. Buchanan’s leadership and how she fostered a sense of trust among her team. “She didn’t sugar-coat things. It was so refreshing,” he said. “I thought the world of her. She was so good at what she did.”

Sheila Riggs, DDS, DSMc, chair of the department of primary care, shared that Dr. Buchanan’s legacy reminds her of a quote from Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

“Leadership ranks should reflect the members of any profession,” Riggs expounded. “Dr. Buchanan was a pioneer on this front. She was a champion for strengthening our processes related to accreditation, extending outreach opportunities for our students, and building high functional teams on the clinic floor and in the administrative offices. She gave me the opportunity to grow when she tapped me to serve as interim academic dean. The School of Dentistry benefited from her focus on bringing 21st-century educational methods to the school. The whole profession benefitted from her pioneering spirit as one of the first female deans in the country.”

Reflecting on Dr. Buchanan’s place among many men who line the walls of the 15th floor Dean’s conference room, Riggs said, “I encourage everyone to notice in a new light--to see--Dr. Buchanan’s picture.”

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