Passion for Dental Education Transcends a 40-Year Career

Posted on: Tuesday, 06/25/2019

DENTISTRY WAS NOT ON CAROL BIBB’S MIND as a future career path until a faculty member serving on the UCLA School of Dentistry’s admissions committee asked if she had ever considered applying to dental school. She had just completed her PhD degree in cell and developmental biology from UC Irvine and had started conducting research in a lab located in the dental school. UCLA was familiar territory for her, as she had completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology at the Westwood campus and had originally planned on pursuing a career in research. With inspiration from her husband, John, who had just completed his medical training, Carol applied to and was accepted into the UCLA DDS Class of 1978.

At that time, women represented less than five percent of dental students in the U.S., and UCLA was working to change that trend by actively recruiting female applicants. Today, the student body has an approximately equal number of men and women. “It’s been encouraging over the years to see our incoming classes and the dental profession shift from one that was male-dominated to one of equal gender make-up. Today, it’s not even a point of discussion. It’s the norm,” said Dr. Bibb, clinical professor of oral medicine and orofacial pain. 

After completing her DDS degree, Dr. Bibb went into general practice and enjoyed caring for her patients’ oral health for 14 years. During that time, she was invited by a faculty member at her alma mater to teach one day a week in the first-year dental morphology course. Her initial assignment was as a bench instructor in the preclinical laboratory, and when that became a success, she was encouraged to give a lecture to the entire class. 

“I thought I was too shy to give a lecture so I was very nervous, and I obsessively prepared for that first experience,” she recalls. That 1-hour lecture started a chain reaction that eventually led to her current role as the associate dean for student affairs, a position she has held for nearly 14 years. “My career in dental education has been exciting, challenging, and fulfilling, and I can honestly say that I have never been bored.”

Throughout her tenure, Dr. Bibb has taught in a range of formats, from lectures and small group case-based seminars, to preclinical laboratory instruction and chair-side clinical supervision. She has taught pre-doctoral students and residents and has served as a research mentor for dental students and master’s degree candidates. 

“The common denominator in all of these interactions is that I consider my students as future professional colleagues. I strive to provide a positive educational experience based on best practices in pedagogy and respect for student time and professional goals,” Dr. Bibb reflects. Her favorite way to summarize this philosophy is to paraphrase celebrated UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden: “Students need mentors and role models, not critics.”

In 2000, Dr. Bibb was offered the position of director of the Westwood general clinic by longtime colleague, Dr. Ronald Mito. She accepted the position and held it for five years. The role had significant administrative responsibilities, but it also presented an opportunity for her to use her expertise as an educator by integrating and applying the foundational, behavioral, and clinical sciences in the patient management curriculum. “It’s always been my goal to help our student dentists become competent, caring, and successful clinicians,” she said.  

When the former assistant dean for student affairs retired at the end of 2004, the dental school needed someone who was capable of running an important office at the School as well as being a mentor to the hundreds of students earning their doctorate of dental surgery degree. In January 2005, Dr. No-Hee Park, then-dean of the School, asked Dr. Bibb to step in to this crucial role as he knew she was the right person for the job. 

“My greatest joy comes from being able to support and assist dental students to maximize their potential and achieve their unique professional goals,” she said. 

In addition to teaching for the past 40 years, Dr. Bibb fulfills her passion for dental education through personal, academic, and career mentoring. She serves as the faculty advisor for professional development activities, such as a teaching apprenticeship that provides workshops and practical experience to student dentists interested in pursuing academic dentistry. She enjoys sharing her expertise and experience with her student teachers. Many of those same individuals, who she mentored and nurtured over the years, are now faculty colleagues here at UCLA and in dental schools around the country. 

“It’s been priceless to see and hear of our graduates' accomplishments in their own careers,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words how much it means to me to hear from alumni about the impact I have had on their professional endeavors.”

When asked what her favorite memory is, Dr. Bibb fondly reflects on the annual commencement ceremony that she and her team are responsible for coordinating. “The sense of pride I feel when I enter Royce Hall to watch another class be formally recognized for their hard work in front of their families is something I am honored to be a part of. It’s a reminder that the future of the dental profession is in very capable hands and that, in a small way, I had a part in it.”

At the end of June, Dr. Bibb stepped down as associate dean for student affairs. She is confident that her successor, Dr. Barry Margolis, will maintain the high level of support and advocacy that the students deserve. She looks forward to continuing to serve the UCLA School of Dentistry on a part-time basis, where she will focus her energy on the exciting curriculum innovations that are currently underway.