Alumni Q & A: Tom Stevenson

Passion for educating the next generation of dentists and dental hygienists the driving force behind $1 million gift to the School of Dentistry.

Tarwinder Rai - 25 October 2017

Tom Stevenson, DDS '73, spent 35 years working as an oral maxillofacial surgeon. Today, he is the associate chair of student affairs in the School of Dentistry at his alma mater, the University of Alberta.

Recently, he and his wife Patricia made a $1 million dollar gift to the School of Dentistry, with $300,000 going towards supporting the Boyle McCauley Dental Clinic, enabling dental students to work with inner city patients. The remaining $700,000 establishes the Dr. Tom Stevenson and Mrs. Patricia Stevenson Student Support and Wellbeing Endowment which will provide support for undergraduate students in Dentistry and Dental Hygiene.

Where has your career taken you since graduation?

After graduating, I practiced general dentistry for two years. In 1975, I went to Chicago to start a residency program in oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Illinois Medical Center and Cook County Hospital. I then moved back to Edmonton after completion, and started my own practice, South Edmonton Oral Surgery, in 1980. I joined the School of Dentistry in 1981 as a part-time instructor. After retiring from my practice, I became a full-time clinical professor.

How did you get interested in dentistry?

I had a passion for anything medical since junior high-just check my yearbook. I chose dentistry because I remember thinking it was something I did with my hands, involved creativity and independence. I have a bit of a creative background. During my pre-dent years in university I had a huge passion for dentistry and I was so pleased when I was accepted. I always had an interest in medicine and I found a great mix between medicine and dentistry as an oral maxillofacial surgeon.

What inspires you to give?

I come from a humble background. My dad was a carpenter and my mother a registered nurse. He always wanted the education that I had but didn't have the opportunity. I was the first one in my family to go to university. It shaped what we do as far as supporting things.

My wife Pat and I recognize that we haven't been successful in anything without the help of other people in the background. We feel fortunate in the opportunities we've had in Edmonton and Alberta, and that we can give back. Also, over the past decade the School of Dentistry has come a long way. We recognized that, with our support, we can help keep this momentum going. With our gift we are able to do something that will have a positive effect on both our students and the patients that we serve.

What advice would you like to share with new dentistry students?

When I decided to come back to teach full-time, I had one goal-I wanted my students to be better than me. I tell our students dentistry is hard work. People think it is easy, but it isn't. My father always told me, "Don't watch the cash register, watch your patients."

Dentistry is not a job, it's a career. Dental school is challenging and demanding and you can expect to put in long hours and work hard. Also, learning doesn't end with graduation. Professional practice, while rewarding, is also lifelong learning. I feel that my students have it harder than my generation in that there is more to learn, they will be graded and judged on social media, and the expectations of our patients is higher.

Dentistry is not just about teeth, it is about the patients that we treat. I have found that one of the greatest rewards is talking to my patients. It can be a humbling experience when you hear about some of the problems and challenges your patients experience in their lives.

What is one of your most memorable moments from dental school?

It's meeting my wife here at the U of A. She was a dental hygienist student and it was the start of a romance that has lasted more than 46 years and a partnership that has made our gift possible. If you ask her, she will tell you the exact same thing…..most days.