Self-determination in action

The new dean of the dental faculty at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG), Professor Graham Ogden, looks back on his career

07 December, 2016 / indepth
 Bruce Oxley    Martin K Jackson

At the tender age of 11 years old, Graham Ogden was faced with his first major career obstacle. Having failed the 11-plus and missing out on a grammar school education, he was sent to the local secondary modern. However, coming from a long line of dentists – he was determined to be the fifth generation of his family to enter the profession – he found his route to dental school was now a lot more difficult.

He said: “I was one of only two people in my year who went to university, and the other lad dropped out after his first year. Nobody had done medicine or dentistry at that stage from my school.”

Graham admits that the ethos of the school at the time was that “they worried more about you not attending the Christmas party, than if you didn’t hand in your homework”. In fact, at the end of his studies, his chemistry teacher admitted to them that he was actually a biology teacher.

I had done a lot of work for colleges in general but i didn’t feel i had put anything back into glasgow

Professor Graham Ogden

Graham said: “We practically taught ourselves chemistry. I remember going to the library and getting out chemistry textbooks to take home and working my way through them.”

This early setback instilled a steely determination and a drive to succeed in the young Graham, and he duly earned a place studying dentistry at Sheffield University in the mid-1970s. He qualified in 1980 and went into general practice in Mansfield before following his interest in oral surgery and securing a houseman’s job at Dudley Road Hospital (now City Hospital) in Birmingham.

After a year, he went on to an SHO post in Bristol and spent half his time working under Professor Crispian Scully and subsequently completed the first part of his FDS before becoming a registrar at Guy’s Hospital in London.

It was at this point he started looking for a lectureship and the first one that came up was at the University of Dundee. He was initially employed on a two-year contract in 1985 which was subsequently extended. He completed his Masters degree and then, towards the end of his PhD studies, the senior lecturer in the department moved to another university.

Having also finished his higher training through the newly-created Academic Advisory Committee for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (AACOMS), he was encouraged to apply. Being successful, he took over as honorary consultant in January 1993 and was promoted to the first chair of oral and maxillofacial surgery in 1999. His title was subsequently altered to professor of oral surgery, when his clinical practice changed and the specialist list of oral surgery was created.

During his Masters degree and PhD studies, Graham had been looking at developing the role of exfoliative cytology. He said: “My colleague Dr Cowpe had started this re-evaluation of exfoliative cytology by applying quantitative cytomorphology and DNA analysis, and had shown that it was worth looking at again.

“Nobody had looked at applying some of the advances in molecular biology to oral smears, so I thought that maybe it was worth applying these techniques in an attempt to refine its role in the early diagnosis of oral cancer.

“For my Masters, I looked at various factors that might influence the results for cytomorphology and DNA profile but, for my PhD, I then studied the cytokeratin profile and p53 immunoreactivity of cells removed from clinically suspicious lesions. This provided a further refinement of the utility of oral exfoliative cytology.”

For that work he was awarded the Senior Colgate Prize by the British Society for Dental Research as well as the British Society for Oral Medicine Prize and the Howard Elder Prize from the University of Dundee for Cancer Research.

Giving back to the college

Graham explained that, while his first contact with the RCPSG was during his FDS studies – he completed his second part in 1984 – he admitted that, until 2010, he didn’t really have much contact with the Glasgow college.

He said: “It occurred to me that, for all these years I had been putting in a great deal of work in for the University of Dundee and also I had been chair of AACOMS and later went on to be chair of the first SAC in oral surgery. So, I had done a lot of work for colleges in general but I didn’t feel I had put anything back into the Glasgow college.

“I then saw an advert for the Dental Education and Professional Development Board so I put my name forward for that and became part of the board in 2010.”

While on the board, he was asked by the dental dean of the day, Alyson Wray, if he would organise the dental aspect of the Triennial Conference for the college in 2014.

He said: “I think the feeling was that we had achieved a good balance of speakers for the two days of the conference and it was generally well received. Then, both Alyson, who was the outgoing dean, and the new dean-elect, Professor Richard Welbury, asked me if I would consider putting my name forward to be one of the two vice-deans for the Dental Faculty. So,
I decided to apply for that.”

In the second year of the two-year appointment, Graham was encouraged to put his name forward for the dean-elect role and he was subsequently elected as understudy to Prof Welbury. He took over at the AGM on 21 October this year and his term will run from 2016 until 2019.

He said: “For so many years I took the role of the college for granted to be honest. I came back to the college reasonably late on but maybe that’s not so surprising, given the many demands of a clinical academic career.

“I am immensely proud to have been elected to the role of dental dean. I certainly never joined the dental education and professional development board with an eye to becoming a vice-dean or even dean. I can honestly say that, without the encouragement of both Alyson Wray and Richard Welbury, I would never have applied for the vice-dean post and thus be in this position now as dean.”

A more inclusive faculty

Graham admits that his main focus is simply continuing the good work of his predecessor, by improving the membership and making sure that they continue to present high levels of educational and CPD opportunities for the whole dental team.

He said: “I see my role as ensuring that we continue the good work that Richard has put in place where we have seen an
11 per cent increase in our membership for the Dental Faculty.

“I may be biased but a lot of people have commented on how friendly the Glasgow college is, and I think that is a reflection on the relative size of the college. We have a great team around us who are really committed to the college and make it very easy to become a part of the college.So, I’d like to continue that ethos.”

Graham admits that the faculty is keen to dispel any notions that the RCPSG Dental Faculty is just for specialists and hospital dentists. He said: “In actual fact, when you look at our membership, you’ll see that many of our members are in general dental practice and we are putting on a great deal of core material for them. We have the annual Top Tips for VTs, Top Tips for GDPs and Top Tips for DCPs events so we don’t want to be seen as just a hospital-based group.

“We have methods by which people can become Fellows who have been Members through involvement in the college because, at the present moment, you do have to be a Fellow to take on certain roles within the college. So, we are trying to encourage people to get a little bit more involved, and it doesn’t have to be a huge involvement.”

Graham also explained that they are trying to develop an international footprint with links in countries such as India and, more recently Panang, Malaysia.

50 years and beyond

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Dental Faculty at the RCPSG and Graham revealed that there are a number of events to mark the occasion.

He said: “We have already planned two one-day events: our annual TC White Conference which will be on dental trauma, on Thursday 1 June and then, on Friday 2 June, we have more of a Top Tips-type approach with a number of speakers speaking for relatively short periods of time giving an overview of various areas of dentistry. A celebratory dinner entitled ‘50 years of Dental Fellowship’, will also be held on the Thursday evening.

And he reiterated his desire to increase numbers of people becoming involved in the faculty. He said: “I want us to maintain our steady increase in membership, certainly we need to increase our Fellows because, at the current time  the way the constitution is written, only Fellows can become office bearers. We do need people to take on these roles.

“We are keen to have people from a wider background, for example one of the two vice dean positions is responsible for organising and supporting our regional advisors, so that role could be well served by a non-hospital based person.”

And looking to the future, Graham admits that he is not looking to retire any time soon. He said: “I really look forward to the next three years in terms of fulfilling my duties as dean of the Dental Faculty.

“I’m also looking to continuing to build a strong department at the University of Dundee, where I am also responsible for the Masters Degree (MRes) in oral cancer.

“Helping to support the career progression of those staff within my unit is also very important to me, as well as seeing undergraduates leave with a sound oral surgical training.”

And, much like the alcohol brief interventions that he espouses in his academic life, Graham said that the influence of colleagues has had a profound affect on his career and inspired him to affect change and meaningful development in others. He said: “You could argue that Alyson Wray and Richard Welbury’s was a brief intervention, it was short-lived but it had a long-term impact.

“I think that I would see my role now as very much facilitating other peoples’ development. That’s what I would like it to be seen as – facilitating their development and seeing them reach their potential, both at Dundee and the Glasgow college.”


Cancer pioneers

Professor Ogden was part of the group that lobbied the GDC for oral cancer to be a recommended topic more than 10 years ago. He said: “Mike Walton of the Ben Walton Trust approached us about setting up the Scottish Oral Cancer Action Group. I remember writing to the GDC at the time and asking them if they would consider making oral cancer a defined topic that dentists should routinely be covering.

“At that stage they were quite dismissive of it and they weren’t inclined to go down that path. But, of course, we have now seen that change and there are now a number of topics that they consider core CPD. So, it has been particularly satisfying to see that develop and that recognition by the GDC.”

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Tags: Cancer Pioneers / Career / Dean of Dental Faculty / Interview / Professor Graham Ogden / Royal Collage of Physicians of Surgeons of Glasgow

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