HKU Bulletin December 2014 (Vol. 16 No.1)

“Information technology (IT) is radically altering how patients look for dental health care, and I’m convinced that in the very near future it will play a bigger role – particularly in a tech-friendly place like Hong Kong,” said Professor Thomas Flemmig, the new Dean of Dentistry and Clinical Professor in Periodontology. Warming to his theme, the new Dean explains that IT will radically change not only dental practice but how dentists interact with patients. One of his main aims for the Faculty therefore is to ensure that students receive an all-round education to prepare them for a career in the modern world. “As a clinical faculty, it is our mission to prepare graduates to meet the oral health needs of the people of Hong Kong,” he said. “Today, that means not only the clinical skills, but business and IT skills. “Academia is changing: the ivory tower is no more. The market is also changing and it is up to us to provide what it needs in terms of workforce. Most graduates will go into private practice – we need to teach them not only with clinical skills, but entrepreneurial skills – how to run a business.” Professor Flemmig comes to HKU from the Department of Periodontics in the University of Washington’s School of Dentistry. He is an accomplished scholar of international standing and renowned periodontist, with extensive experience working with government agencies and professional organisations. Prior to taking up the Deanship, he has visited HKU several times as Guest Lecturer. Asked what prompted him to come to HKU full-time, he said: “The Faculty is renowned, particularly for excellence in research. Its unique educational programme is one of only a Multiple skills for a multitasking world On top of being excellent clinicians, today’s graduates need to be entrepreneurs and information technology experts too, says new Dean of Dentistry. few in dentistry which has a problem-based learning approach. Add to that the excellent resources including staff members with a very broad range of expertise, top-grade students both local and overseas, and the fact that HKU itself is a leader in research and higher education excellence, with strong interdisciplinary collaborations between the faculties, and a strong sense of community.” Praising his predecessor Dean Lakshman Samaranayake, as well as interim Dean Professor Edward Lo Chin-man, Professor Flemmig said: “Under Professor Samaranayake’s decade as Dean, the Faculty has become a leader in oral health research, particularly research in biomedical and tissue engineering infection and immunity, and public health and healthy ageing.” The new Dean aims “to build on the Faculty’s existing strengths and expertise, expanding the research area into comparative effectiveness research – which is needed more and more in clinical work and teaching in order to support evidence-based decision-making in dentistry.” He seeks to promote innovation, particularly when it comes to integrating new technology into the dental profession. “We are in a unique position to harness the technologies in the University and in the community, bring them together and find areas where they can be used to benefit dentistry – both in its practice and in the education of dental students.” Professor Flemmig’s research area is in the control of oral biofilms. He points out that in the United States the overall expenditure on oral biofilms and associated diseases are greater than those for each of the most costly medical conditions including cancer. Practise what you teach When it comes to teaching, he is very hands-on. “I have practised clinically – mainly periodontology and implant dentistry – throughout my career as I think it’s important in academia that as teachers we practise what we teach. It’s vital to keep up with advances in clinical practice so that we know how to integrate them into dental teaching. In departments of periodontics in the United States and in Germany I was closely involved with teaching and patient care.” He has also served on German Council of Science and Humanities, which makes recommendations to the Government on medical and dental policy, which enabled him to recognise the need to marry the academic and policy aspects of dentistry with the business side. That in turn led him to learn more about the economics of periodontal care. “I did a Master of Business Administration and got a certificate in Health Sector Management. I learned that the academic world can learn from the business world. There is a tendency in academia to do things the way they have always been done, whereas in business they are more inclined to look for ways to improve, via for example the pursuit of best practices in industry sectors. We can do same in academia. “I have collaborated extensively with industry, and more recently with the start-up community. There are great opportunities to wed our academic competencies with the possibilities that technology start-ups can offer.” When he is not at the Faculty, Professor Flemmig’s interests include reading – mainly non-fiction – and sport. He used to swim competitively, reaching the finals of the German nationals. He also skis, plays tennis, loves road and mountain biking, and used to hold his pilot’s licence – a multitasker in word and deed. Discussion about research with students in the Centralised Research Laboratory of the Faculty of Dentistry. Clinical instruction of postgraduate students in the Centre for Advanced Dental Care of the Faculty of Dentistry. Academia is changing: the ivory tower is no more. The market is also changing and it is up to us to provide what it needs in terms of workforce. Professor Thomas Flemmig The University of Hong Kong Bulletin | December 2014 30 | 31 People