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Natalie Dicou

Communications Specialist, Public Affairs
Phone: 801-587-1374

Jun 08, 2016 2:32 PM

Wyatt Rory Hume, D.D.S., Ph.D., took the reins of the University of Utah School of Dentistry on May 15. The internationally acclaimed Australian scholar and leader, who has served at the highest administrative levels in dental schools and universities worldwide, has big plans for the young school. We sat down with the new dean to get to know him and his philosophy.

Why did you want to become a dentist?

I grew up in rural Australia and dental disease was the biggest problem families had at that time. People lost more days from work and school because of dental disease than they did because of any other health problems, so it was a big issue. I like fixing things, so the field interested me from that perspective as well. I still enjoy the physical aspects of tooth repair.

What drew you to the University of Utah?

I came here because of the opportunity to develop a dental school in a new way. The school is very young and will have enormous opportunities as it grows. This is an environment in which health care delivery, education and research are done very well — this region gets better outcomes of care than anywhere in the U.S., and the U is a big part of that — and I discovered a real desire here to fit the School of Dentistry into that in a way that would be innovative and unique.

How do you see the School of Dentistry fitting into that picture?

Dentistry has been very separate, historically, from the other aspects of health care, but we’ve also recognized for the past 40 or 50 years that there are a lot of links between the health of the mouth and the health of the rest of the body. For example, women with mouth infections have more problems with childbirth; dental disease can cause heart problems; and there are oral health implications with diabetes. So, having separate delivery, research, and education systems for dentistry and other areas of health care is not a good idea anymore. We need to integrate them much more than has been the case. 

What are your plans for bringing it all together?

Other dental schools are still very much standalone. Even if they’re physically located next to a hospital, often they operate as if there is a giant wall between them. There is a very different attitude here, so we’re starting at a good point. There are two main things that will help. Electronic medical records and electronic dental records are now totally separate, and they shouldn’t be. Within in the U, we want to have one health record for all aspects of patient care, so that each care provider knows holistically what is going on. The second great opportunity is to integrate our community clinic settings into the whole spectrum of health care delivery. We already have some examples here, and there are many more opportunities.

What are challenges facing our dental school?

It’s a small school, and there are benefits in that. The students have done extraordinarily well on their national boards already, which is great, but as they move further into their clinical years, we’re going to have to continue finding creative ways to ensure that they get a rich and diverse clinical experience despite the small class. I think that’s the principle challenge. 

As someone from the other side of the world, what are your impressions of Utah?

I feel at home in many ways. I grew up in rural Australia.  I love the broad horizons, the outdoors and the mountains. I’ve also spent a lot of time in cities during my career. Salt Lake City is a more relaxed city than Los Angeles, or San Francisco or Sydney. It’s a very nice community. I also like the social values here. Part of the success in health care delivery here is that society as a whole cares for people. In Utah, I have the feeling that there’s a strong social concern for each other, and that’s important to me.

When you’re not working, what do you love to do?

In addition to being with my family, I’ve been a sailor for a long time, and I love sailing when I can. When I was young I was a very active competitive oarsman (he competed in crew for Australia, taking fifth place in the eights at the 1970 World Championships), and I’m now doing it again as a ‘masters’ oarsman. There’s this fabulous system of older people racing against each other, in crews with age handicaps. I’ve had some success with people my age and a bit younger in national competitions, and I really enjoy that. Recently, his 8-man crew won both the 50-55 and 55+ age groups at the San Diego Crew Classic).

What does it take to be a great oarsman?

It’s helpful to have long arms and legs — it’s sort of like basketball in that there’s a physical advantage in size. Then there are technical things you need to learn, so it’s like golf in that sense. Training is a combination of always trying to refine technique, and building stamina and endurance. You can do it as an individual, in a single, but I prefer to be part of a crew. Team dynamics become important. You can have four or eight individuals each rowing well and hard, and the boat won’t go fast unless the crew develops very good timing and cohesion.