Shaping the Future of Academic Dentistry

May 12, 2020
Kelly Suralik, DMD20

All roads led to academic dentistry for Kelly Suralik, a 2020 graduate of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM). After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry at Middlebury College, followed by a Master of Science in Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Suralik set her sights on dentistry, bringing her curiosity, passion, and leadership to the HSDM community. The Wisconsin native will return to the Midwest after graduation to pursue a residency in Prosthodontics at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Early in her career, Suralik displayed an interest in teaching and mentorship. During her undergraduate years she served as a mentor, and later as president, for the Sister-to-Sister Club, an organization dedicated to empowering middle school girls through female mentorship. While attending the University of Wisconsin, she was recognized as an outstanding chemistry graduate teaching assistant.

Kelly Suralik, DMD20, working on a patient in the Harvard Dental CenterWhile at HSDM, Suralik volunteered for a variety of committees and student groups. An active member of the HSDM Big/Little Siblings program, she led countless events and programs that foster a sense of belonging and community among HSDM’s DMD students. She served as the president of the Prosthodontics and Implantology Interest Group and has been a member of the American College of Prosthodontics Predoctoral Alliance. In 2018, when Harvard searched for its next president, Suralik was selected to represent HSDM as a member of the Harvard Presidential Search Student Advisory Committee.

Many of Suralik’s experiences at HSDM shaped her desire to pursue academic dentistry as a career path. One such experience was a fellowship with the American Dental Education Association Academic Dental Careers Fellowship Program (ADCFP), a program that was founded with the goal of providing students and residents with the opportunity to become involved in academia by providing structured mentorship and insight into what an academic career involves. The program creates a pathway for those who may be considering entering an academic career. Suralik’s interests made her a natural fit for the fellowship.

“Academic dentistry allows for practice at a high level surrounded by collaborative colleagues to deliver comprehensive care,” she said. “Working in academia also presents resources to advance dental materials research. The Academic Dental Career Fellowship gave me exposure to the variety of ways one can enter into academia. I now have perspective as to how to begin my own academic career.”

As a second-year DMD student, Suralik applied for one of two spots in HSDM’s Scholars in Dental Education program, a program for DMD students who are interested in careers in academic dentistry. Two students are accepted into the program each year, and serve throughout their second, third, and fourth years gaining a comprehensive overview of what it means to be a dental faculty member beyond didactic and clinical teaching. Scholars have the opportunity to engage in three aspects of dental education: education research, teaching, and curriculum initiatives. The program also offers guest lectures and lunch-and-learn sessions with faculty members and administrators at HSDM, as well as the opportunity to observe several HSDM committees in action, including admissions, curriculum, and educational quality improvement.

“The Scholars in Dental Education program provided me with the opportunity to converse with the HSDM administration and other leaders in the field of academic dentistry about their careers,” said Suralik. “I participated in admissions and curriculum committee meetings and assisted in teaching in order to get a sense of what day-to-day life is like for a faculty dentist.”

Kelly Suralik, DMD20, with mentor Dr. Sang LeeSuralik has also shown a devotion to research during her time at HSDM. Earlier this year, she was awarded third place in the predoctoral research poster competition at a national American College of Prosthodontists (ACP) meeting. Her project, titled Effect of Fabrication Method on Fracture Strength of Provisional Fixed Dental Prosthesis Restorations combined her background in materials chemistry with her newfound passion for prosthodontics. “The intersection of materials science and dentistry absolutely fascinates me. I am most excited about the potential of the research findings to have impact across the field,” said Suralik.

“Kelly is a tireless, meticulous, and diligent student who always acts in the best interest of her patients and her classmates,” said Peter Grieco, DMSc15, instructor in Restorative Dentistry and Biomaterials Sciences and a mentor to Suralik. “Her work ethic and integrity are as remarkable as her attention to detail. She will surely represent Harvard School of Dental Medicine well in her upcoming residency in prosthodontics at the Mayo Clinic.”

For Suralik, combining her interests in academia and prosthodontics is the perfect fit.

“Prosthodontics is a thinking specialty and suits how I approach tasks. It requires attention to detail, both in treatment planning and delivering care,” she said. “I am meticulous by nature, invest the time required to do something correctly, and enjoy working with my hands. I want to create functional and aesthetic dentition that will change the patient’s attitude and quality of life.”

See also: Community, Students