Welcome from Professor Alastair Sloan

When I arrived in Melbourne in January 2020, little did I know what a year it would be. I had hoped to spend the first few months getting to know the staff, the students and how the entire Melbourne Dental School operated.

But when COVID-19 hit last year, things quickly halted. We spent much of the first few months moving courses online, designing new online content, re-focusing School operations and working out how we could continue to deliver high quality clinical placements in the safest possible way.

I knew before joining the University of Melbourne that it had a fantastic reputation, but what I didn’t know was just how dedicated our staff and students are. The resilience, understanding and patience of both staff and students has been extraordinary to see. It cannot continue like this however and the School now needs to embed the extraordinary, blended content it has developed into the 2021 academic year and beyond.

Now that restrictions have eased in Melbourne, it is important the School looks forward. The COVID pandemic shone a light on the challenging aspects of our business (as it has on many dental schools across the world). With 2021 well underway, I am focusing on the items that I had planned for last year – in particular, our curriculum review and strategic research review. I will be reaching out to you, our alumni, for your thoughts and opinions on which areas of our programs we can improve, what works well and more importantly how we can best prepare our students for the modern clinical workforce. Alongside this will be a refresh of the School’s governance structures to set us up for future challenges and opportunities.

Part of this work has already begun with a restructuring of our Senior Management Committee and the creation of three new divisions with a broader home for academic staff and a stronger critical mass for academic endeavours and activity, be that biomedical and clinical research or education/pedagogical research. We have also created our Learning Teaching and Quality Committee, chaired by our Director of Learning and Teaching Dr Rebecca Wong to drive forward our education agenda.

I will also be exploring opportunities to enhance the School’s international research standing. As a researcher myself, I have reaped the rewards of international collaboration and exposure. I have been lucky in my career in Cardiff to lead a large University research network and latterly the School of Dentistry, both of which built strong international research partnerships. My ambitions here in Melbourne now are to help elevate the positive reputation of the Melbourne Dental School by increasing the impact of our research on an international level. The creation of the DentAlliance, a partnership between Melbourne Dental School, and the Dentistry faculties at King’s College London, University of North Carolina and National University of Singapore, addresses current challenges dental schools, and indeed universities, face. By working together, we can shape dental curriculum and training and oral/dental research for future needs and be leaders rather than fast-followers. I am delighted that initial projects have started between the partner Schools.

This agenda of change, MDS’25, is designed to create a sustainable School for the long-term to deliver world class education and research, creating outstanding clinicians and scientists to address the challenges facing oral health. I hope you, our alumni, will be excited to see the changes ahead.

As I write this, it is now 17 months since I arrived in Australia with my family and despite the disruptions of last year, we have all settled well into life here in Melbourne. I say Melbourne as it is only in the past few months that we have been able to visit some of this beautiful state of Victoria that the Sloan family now call home.

While it was wonderful to see many of you at our Reunite Online program last year, I am more and more positive that we’ll be able to get back to some in-person events later this year and beyond, where we can meet and get to know each other.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us like never before and I’m sure many of you have had challenging times. I am very interested to hear how you have been impacted and how we can best support our alumni community into the future. I acknowledge the dedication and hard work of our dental community and commend you for rising to this challenge. What I can say is that the opportunities for change are great and the future is exciting.

I look forward to a smoother year ahead and hope to see you all soon.

Professor Alastair J Sloan
Head, Melbourne Dental School