Ask Dr. Bjorn Steffensen how he came to work at TUSDM, and he laughs.
“That’s a very long story,” he said.
Dr. Steffensen, the new Chair of the Department of Periodontology, started at TUSDM on October 15 of 2013, and the Board of Trustees recently awarded him tenure at the rank of Professor on November 1. He comes to Tufts after several years working at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio (UTHSCSA) as Professor of Periodontics as well as Associate Dean for Research.
Dr. Steffensen’s story starts in Denmark, where he was born and raised. He earned his D.D.S. degree from the Royal College of Dentistry in Copenhagen and then practiced dentistry first in Denmark and then in Switzerland. While concurrently attending postgraduate courses in periodontology and crown bridge dentistry at University of Bern, he gained interest in pursuing a formal specialty program in Periodontology. He realized this goal (and earned an M.S.) the University of Michigan, and was subsequently recruited to his first faculty position at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio where he primarily taught clinical periodontology to dental students. Having become increasingly involved in periodontal research, he and his wife Jane decided to move to Vancouver, British Columbia, in order for Dr. Steffensen to gain in-depth knowledge of research in a Ph.D. program in oral biology.
After five years, with his Ph.D. in hand, Dr. Steffensen was recruited back to the Periodontics Department in San Antonio – as Dr. Steffensen says “not great planning since we had to move all our belongings across the continent once more – however, we had a great time being able to devote ourselves to learning as seasoned graduate students.” In San Antonio, Dr. Steffensen set up a research laboratory, and directed a National Institutes of Health-funded program for research training of dental, Ph.D. and D.D.S./Ph.D. students as well as faculty. In 2005, he was appointed Associate Dean for Research at the Dental School at the UT Health Science Center.
“I feel like I have been in practice, I’ve completed specialty training with Board certification, I’ve worked with and taught dental and postdoctoral students, been engaged in research, and, as Associate Dean, I have experienced the administrative side of dental education,” he said. “I am honored and excited to be given the opportunity to bring together all of these different aspects of my training in my new position as Chair of an outstanding Department of Periodontology with an impressive and long-standing tradition of excellence.”
TUSDM felt like a natural fit for Dr. Steffensen’s multifaceted career experiences. He said he was attracted to the strength and reputation of the faculty of the school and the Department of Periodontology, and that the position’s focus on working directly with faculty to assist in shaping their careers also appealed to him.
“As a Chair, I consider that one of my important functions – to help faculty and students achieve their goals,” he said. “Anyone who commits to being in an academic position should be able to be guided in a way that helps them get the most out of what they’re doing.”
Here just under a month, Dr. Steffensen said that among the biggest things he’s noticed is the diversity of the student body, which he’s witnessed by sitting in on courses and speaking with faculty around the school. “Working with students from multiple countries and regions of both the U.S. and the world” he said, “creates the basis for an enriching personal experience that benefits everybody in the school.” Dr. Steffensen is also impressed by the engagement of our students in work outside the classroom.
“I’m so pleased to see how engaged our students are,” he said. “They display a real interest in the curriculum, in case presentations, in discussions. They’re active in presenting at regional meetings, like the Yankee Dental Meeting. It’s very encouraging.”
There is another Steffensen who recently joined TUSDM: Dr. Steffensen’s wife, Jane, also started on October 15, as an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Health and Community Service.
“We work in the same building, but our areas of focus are actually quite different,” Dr. Steffensen said. “She’s very engaged with dental public health. My wife likes to say that, professionally, I live in the micro world, and she lives in the macro world.”
In the short term, Dr. Steffensen is still acclimating to TUSDM and to his new home in Brookline. But he has high aspirations for the Department of Periodontology and his role there; he wishes to help enhance the educational and clinical experiences for residents and students, to streamline the research projects for residents, and to work interprofessionally with colleagues across the school and university
“Periodontology is a multifaceted specialty that lends itself to strong interactions with other dental specialties for the benefit of the patients” he said. “The general health of the patients has a great impact on their periodontal health, and, conversely, the periodontal health affects the rest of the body as well. I have a great interest in how those interactions relate to each other.”