Inspiring with ease

August 9th, 2013


Just what is it that makes Dr. Terry Rees the AAP’s 2013 Outstanding Periodontal Educator? We went straight to the source — a handful of former residents spanning more than 20 years — who readily shared their thoughts on this longtime faculty member.

There’s a curious trinket in Dr. Terry Rees’ office. Standing just a few inches high, fully clad in a white lab coat and neatly pressed khakis, complete with black-rimmed glasses and a topping of white hair, is Bobble Head Terry.

The likeness makes an appearance to every class of first-year residents, who have some of Rees’ former students to thank. They presented it to him as a gift several years ago. Journal Club — a weekly study session in which Rees and first-year residents pore over the latest published research findings — is the perfect venue for Bobble Head Terry’s debut.

“I take it every year, and I introduce Bobble Head Terry to the meeting, because he’s hoping we’re going to finally have a good group of first-year residents,” Rees jokes. “They may or may not like that, but that’s what I do.”
Gag gifts aside, lasting relationships can be forged in 30 years.

Since organizing the Stomatology Center in 1984 and becoming its director, much of Rees’ time these past three decades has been spent instructing residents. A 1968 periodontics graduate of the college himself, he’s mentored more than 50 residents through the years, guiding them on the ins and outs of periodontics and oral medicine. There’s a funny thing about that. If you talk with Rees’ former residents, they may mention Bobble Head Terry, but you’re more likely to hear about Rees’ continuing role in their lives and the mentoring that never stopped.

The American Academy of Periodontology recently announced that during its annual session in Philadelphia this fall it will honor Rees with its 2013 Award for Outstanding Periodontal Educator, a lifetime achievement award created to recognize periodontal faculty who teach with distinction and inspire with ease. Now, four alumni of the college’s graduate periodontic program discuss the instructor whose opinion they still seek to this day.

Dr. Jacque Plemons, 1988

“Dr. Rees inspired me to find my passion in dentistry,” says Dr. Jacque Plemons, who also completed a fellowship in oral medicine during her residency. “He seemed to always have the right answer to the most puzzling oral medicine questions.”

That was 27 years ago. Nowadays, the two work together in the Stomatology Center, where they care for patients with complex diseases and teach residents to do the same.

“Moving from student to colleague has been very easy and comfortable with Dr. Rees, as we both interact with mutual respect,” says Plemons, a professor in periodontics. “Most of the things that I have done with some degree of success in dentistry — both in practice and academics — I can attribute to his influence, and I can’t imagine my professional career without his support.”

Dr. Eduardo Lorenzana, 1999

Dr. Eduardo Lorenzana likens Rees to a popular figurehead within the NFL world: Coach Tony Dungy.

“He has such a quiet, strong presence. He doesn’t have to be the guy throwing his weight around at you,” says Lorenzana, who wrote a recommendation letter for Rees’ award. “You don’t want to let him down. It’s not out of fear, it’s out of respect. That’s how Dr. Rees is. You just know you don’t want to let Dr. Rees down, and you want to do everything you can to realize his expectations of you.”

When corrections need to be made, Rees corrects gently, with a soft voice and the slightest hint of a Mississippi drawl.

Even though Lorenzana’s practice is nearly 300 miles away in San Antonio, when he needs a second opinion on troublesome cases, Rees is the first person he calls.

“He is so forthcoming with helping me to work through the issues,” says Lorenzana. “He always has taken good care of his residents and his people.”

Dr. Daniela Zambon, 2007

Dr. Daniela Zambon spends one day a week on campus in her role as a clinical assistant professor in periodontics, affording the perfect opportunity to discuss vexing cases with Rees. He consistently offers valuable input. It’s no different than during her residency years

“The other day I showed him a specific case, and immediately he said, ‘You know what, I’ve read this somewhere,’” Zambon recalls.

Within minutes Rees located the article and placed it in Zambon’s hands.

“I think he constantly reads research that is published,” says Zambon. “He is a person that was born to educate because he’s always willing to share his knowledge.”

Dr. Chris Carney, 2011

Since finishing his periodontic residency two years ago and opening an office in Mansfield, Texas, Dr. Chris Carney has made oral medicine a strong component of his practice, in large part because of Rees. The knowledge base built during his residency has remained strong, but when Carney wants another perspective on cases out of the ordinary, he doesn’t hesitate to contact his former instructor. At the time of this interview, the two had chatted just three weeks before.

“From a personal standpoint, he’s always been someone that I can pick up the phone and call and bounce something off of without feeling as if I’m interrupting him,” says Carney. “The education didn’t stop when I got my diploma.

“Hands down, he is the most approachable instructor I’ve ever dealt with. He never treated you like a student but rather a colleague.”

— Jennifer Fuentes