Posted on 23rd September 2020
He may still be new to the job, but it’s clear that Professor Hien Ngo is ready to make a big impact at UWA Dental School, which he sees as having great potential.
Professor Ngo brings to Western Australia a wealth of experience, recently returning from Australia after serving as the Dean of the College of Dental Medicine at the University of Sharjah. He has also worked at Kuwait University, the National University of Singapore, the University of Adelaide and the University of Queensland.
“I felt it was time to come home, because I had been away from Australia for 12 years,” he says. “This school has a lot of potential, so I picked it over other schools.”
But first – his plans were slightly delayed due to spending two weeks in quarantine, thanks to COVID-19. Luckily, two weeks in a hotel room did not faze him.
“Knowing that (the quarantine period) was being done for the right purpose helped, and it was only for a very short time,” he says. “You have to be very disciplined and structured. Make sure you wake up, as if you were getting ready to go to work, do your exercise and do not sit in bed reading a book and fall asleep again. You need to be mindful of your time. You can do a lot of work in a hotel room with Zoom meetings and using other digital platforms; it was quite a different way of working but it worked well.”
It is clear his focus is about the students and ensuring all students are “career ready” when they graduate. “What I see is being able to match the graduates to the expectation of their future employers,” he explains. “We have put into motion now a few projects that will deliver that in a couple of years.
“On top of doing the conventional work, (our students) will be exposed to some experience in digital workflow, because that is where the future will be. But certainly, we do not forget that we need to teach them the basics first.
“A current challenge for students is our evolving curriculum. We hope we can stabilise that and have a curriculum that the students will like – and that our stakeholders will like as we will produce the kind of graduate that they can employ right away.”
Professor Ngo’s focus on students is not only from a planning level; he has an open-door policy (by appointment).
“I think the Head of School needs to understand what is happening at a grassroots level,” he explains. “The open–door policy is structured very well. The concept is that everyone has access to the Head of School – and that applies to my staff as well.”
Professor Ngo appears to be a Head of School that students will look up to as a mentor – he is approachable, good humoured and the students will have confidence knowing their Head of School does not just talk the talk, he has walked the walk – with extensive experience as a practitioner (as a general dentist and prosthodontist. In his early dental life, he worked in the school dental service, driving dental vans to rural areas, which he loved).
In fact, it is Professor Ngo’s 20 years in private practice that has been his career highlight so far. “That is where I enjoyed the patient/dentist relationship, and being able to look after them and learn, which led me to my next path, where I went back to university to get my higher degrees and my research has always been focused on solving clinical problems,” he explains.
Professor Ngo also has many other plans for the Dental School, with some already in the works. He hopes to work with the public health system to deliver better care for patients and better education for DMD/DCD students, and is looking into the possibility of introducing special needs dentistry to the school. He also hopes to strengthen support from the alumni, and partner with ADAWA, the study clubs and the public sector, in order to develop a strong workforce.
He says there will be functions arranged to get to know the alumni better and professional events planned.