Neena D’Souza, BDS, MDS, Dip Prostho, MSc, FRCD (C), Mississauga Dental Specialists, Canada; GCSRT program participant
For the past 20 years, prosthodontist Dr. Neena D’Souza has run a multi-specialty dental clinic in Ontario, Canada. While she has always found her work rewarding, she recently recognized a growing desire to challenge herself and expand her impact in new ways. Yet she wasn’t sure how to accomplish this goal.
“I was looking for something that would allow me to stay stimulated over the coming years,” she explains. Then an ad for Harvard Medical School’s postgraduate Global Clinical Scholars Research Training program popped up in her Facebook feed, and suddenly everything fell into place. Dr. D’Souza applied to participate in the program and committed to giving it her all.
Committing to Continuing Medical Education
“Most medical professionals go into the field knowing that continuing our education is a life-long experience. We have to keep up with new developments, research, technology and ways of being educated, as well as educating others,” she says. But, it can be difficult to find the right learning opportunity to strengthen these areas while at the same time allowing the scholar to continue a successful career.
The Global Clinical Scholars Research Training program really appealed to Dr. D’Souza because she could work and learn at the same time. In fact, much of the Harvard program material is presented in an online format (before the COVID-19 pandemic, the online modules were also coupled with several in-person workshops) that made it possible to participate while continuing to see patients. In addition, the training has provided her with a unique opportunity to team up with many accomplished clinicians and researchers working around the world.
Building on the Capstone Requirement
But perhaps the most valuable aspect of the program for Dr. D’Souza has been the capstone requirement, which she points out was not just an exercise in theory but has actually led her to create a proposal that has opened many doors for her work.
The capstone process requires scholars to develop a question they want to answer and then determine the steps they would take to conduct their own original study to find that answer. The process also involves conducting a literature review to learn what has already been done in the field and to analyze previously reported findings.
This experience has led to a number of opportunities for her. For instance, Dr. D’Souza used her capstone proposal to collaborate with several other dental professionals at the University of Toronto, which ultimately resulted in her being appointed to the faculty of the school. Her capstone project was also endorsed by Diabetes Canada and by a local dental association. In addition, she used the capstone as the basis for a formal proposal that she submitted for a $100,000 community grant.
“If I receive the funding, I hope to conduct the research within my practice and publish my findings to reach a broader audience,” she says.
Exploring the Relationship between Diabetes and Tooth Wear
“The theme of my capstone project is to look at the rate at which saliva is produced in the mouth of diabetics. The assumption is that people with diabetes have a reduced salivary flow rate that leads to an increase in tooth wear,” Dr. D’Souza explains. “As a prosthodontist, I focus on reconstruction of the mouth and teeth, and I see a lot of people who have been referred to me for complete reconstruction due to tooth wear,” she says. This sparked her interest in learning more about the potential relationship between diabetes and tooth wear so that health professionals can respond proactively to stave off the problem.
“Diabetes is a really big problem in North America and the world, and the people affected experience a number of comorbidities,” she says, adding that undergoing an oral reconstruction on top of what people are already experiencing medically can be very difficult on many fronts.
“My objective is to be able to identify the connection and then raise awareness among primary care providers. This information is something they can use to help patients since they can take steps to prevent the problem,” she says.
“Diabetes Canada will make my research available to the health care and dental arenas to raise more awareness so professionals can try to minimize and plateau the effects of tooth wear,” she says. This will be a significant contribution to help improve dental health, and to improve associated overall health and well-being, for many patients.
Building a Stronger Research Foundation
While she has had real success with building relationships as the result of her capstone project, Dr. D’Souza admits that going back to a research-focused program was also hard work. “I went into the program with a really open mind. Initially it was very challenging since none of my past education had trained me for this level of detailed work,” she says.
While many other participants had a stronger research background, she felt at a disadvantage in this area and had to build her skills to be able to maximize the program curriculum and put it to work to help her reach her goals.
Over time, she has become more familiar with an array of research concepts, so now she can communicate with statisticians and other experts about her project design, plans for data collection and how best to analyze the results.
“This training has enabled me to really understand these areas, and this has given my knowledge level a real boost,” she says. She points out that she now knows how to manage the research process, and she understands potential pitfalls so they can be avoided. She also knows how to structure the data collection and interpret it so it will provide meaning to a larger audience.
Dr. D’Souza was paired with other medical professionals from around the world through Harvard, which also contributed to expanding her comprehension and scientific perspective of the medical literature.
In addition to her current proposal that has grown out of her capstone project, she is also now building on her newfound knowledge to develop several new ideas for other research projects that she hopes to be able to pursue in the near future.
Setting a Strong Example for Her Family
While the timing for the Global Clinical Scholars Research Training program ad to show up on Facebook was perfect for where she was in her career, Dr. D’Souza points out that it was in sync with her home life, too. She has three children who are all currently in school (one in law school and the other two in high school), so they were all working simultaneously toward their futures. Her husband was also able to play a supportive role in enabling her to strive toward reaching her professional aspirations.
She says that she hopes that her endeavors in building her expertise through the Harvard program will also ultimately serve as a reminder to her children to continue to set the bar at new heights for themselves, and that the practice of perseverance, hard work and discipline in their own lives will help them achieve their goals.
Learn more about Global Clinical Scholars Research Training.
Written by Lisa D. Ellis