"Something I love about Pacific is that we are willing to take calculated risks and reinvent ourselves when appropriate.”
Parag Kachalia was still a dental student at University of the Pacific when he realized that after graduating he would like to be a part-time dental school faculty member. So after the pomp and circumstance of graduation was finished, he followed through with his plan and joined the dental school as a one-day-per-week faculty member in addition to seeing patients in private practice. This was the start of Parag's ever-evolving career as a dental educator.
About three years after joining the faculty, Parag was asked to consider taking the role of director of Preclinical Fixed Prosthodontics, one of the largest courses at the Dugoni School. After some deliberation he decided to jump in with both feet and accepted the position along with a new commitment as a three-day-per-week faculty member.
"I never imagined I would have such a high level of faculty involvement, but I'm glad I took the path that I did," says Parag. "Being an educator has made me a better practitioner, and being a practitioner has made me a better educator."
Over the years Parag's commitment to the dental school has grown, but he has always maintained the private practice that he shares with his wife Charity (who is also a Dugoni School graduate) in San Ramon, Calif. He is frequently chosen to participate in national and international speaking engagements, something he says he loves to do. He and Charity have started a family and Parag is quick to acknowledge that he's able to be successful with his busy lifestyle due to the immense support of his family.
Today Parag is at the dental school four days each week and holds the title of Vice Chair, Preclinical Education, Technology and Research in the Department of Integrated Reconstructive Dental Sciences, which he admits is wordy, but is an indication of the multiple hats he wears as a faculty member. He oversees his department's simulation courses for first-year students who aren't yet treating patients in clinic, and he also serves as the school's point person for information on and implementation of new dental technologies.
Parag, along with his dedicated team of faculty, are working tirelessly to modernize the Dugoni School's preclinical curriculum. In recent years the dental school has modified its curriculum to better cater to millennial learners who respond to interactive academic environments and personalized learning experiences. Students are now being asked to think critically about patient care and treatment plans, not just to memorize procedures and perform them.
"There has been fear surrounding changes to the educational model because our current model does work well, but we want to make sure we're staying up-to-date with the way students now prefer to learn," he says. "Today's students are able to absorb vast amounts of information and correctly filter it down to what is important. Our role as faculty members is morphing from giving our students information to memorize, into helping them understand where to go to find that information and then teaching them critically evaluate it."
The technology side of his position is equally progressive. Parag is involved with most of the dental school's research and decisions regarding new technologies and guides the school's commitment to implementing them. He's also made it a priority to ensure the Dugoni School gets involved with the process of helping companies develop and test new technologies, not just adopting them years after they hit the market.
"I want Pacific to be viewed as the place to go to for information on new dental technologies and techniques, and I think we're getting there," says Parag. "We have a growing number of faculty members and school leaders who are interested in setting the bar when it comes to new technology in dental education. I view Pacific as a Center of Excellence, a center that allows us to lead the path for the profession, rather than reacting to it."
Adding to his already numerous duties, Parag maintains a high level of involvement with many school committees and leadership groups. Last year he served as chair of the Dental Faculty Council as well as the writing group for the revision of the school's Strategic Plan. Currently he leads the school's Equipment Purchasing Group, which is responsible for making decisions regarding dental equipment and technology partners for the school's future campus in SoMa.
When asked about why he chooses to be so involved beyond his official roles, he mentions his personal philosophy that to effect changes, one needs to be a part of the process. He also shares his fear of complacency, explaining that when organizations or people become complacent they stop innovating. Parag says that he is excited about dental school's forward-thinking goals and is doing all he can to stay engaged as the school evolves.
"I believe our school is good at what we do, but I also think we can be better," he explains. "I stay so involved because I feel that I need to do my part to help get us there."
He adds, "Something I love about Pacific is that we are willing to take calculated risks and reinvent ourselves when appropriate. I am thrilled to be a part of that growth process."
Curriculum development, technology and committees aside, Parag mentions one of his favorite parts of teaching is attending the dental school's annual Excellence Day event where students showcase their clinical and research accomplishments. He says the quality and complexity of cases that the students present consistently amazes him and helps reinforce his appreciation for education.
"At the end of the day, being an educator is about the students and what they get out of their time here at school," he says. "Seeing their progress always reminds me why I do this, and makes me proud of what we've accomplished."