Global Health Nexus, Fall 2000

International Partners in Health: The University of Lisbon

Watching Dr. Joaõ Carames, NYU Dentistry’s continuing education representative in Portugal, introduce Dr. Amando dos Santos, professor and dean of the dental faculty at the University of Lisbon, to members of the NYU Dentistry community last spring, I recalled the words sung by Anna in the opening song from The King and I: “If you become a teacher, by your students you’ll be taught.” How true.
Dr. dos Santos had made the long journey from Portugal to participate in a continuing education course at NYU Dentistry. Even though he has retired from active clinical practice, he came to New York at the suggestion of Dr. Carames, his protégé and a rising star at the University of Lisbon, to observe and be taught by those who had helped train Dr. Carames.

The Seeds of a Relationship

The NYU-Lisbon story has deep roots. It began in 1995, on a spring afternoon, in one of those charming lunch spots in a modest neighborhood in the Portuguese capital.

Dr. William Greenfield, then associate dean for international affairs, had met earlier with Dr. dos Santos, established a strong rapport, and offered him the opportunity to select top students at the University of Lisbon to apply for the one-year advanced training program for international dentists at NYU. His first choice was Joaõ Carames.

Joaõ had graduated from the University of Lisbon dental school five years earlier. He was married with two small children and had recently opened his own practice in a second-floor walk-up. He was also teaching one course at the University of Lisbon. Most important, for him and for us, was his passion to acquire more skills and training.

He did. One year later, and about to complete his course at NYU Dentistry, Joaõ was a leader of the Iberian student group at the College. He had been accepted into the Ph.D. degree program in Lisbon and had just rented office space in the capital. He could not have been happier.

Fast forward to 1998. Joaõ Carames proudly shows me around his new office in downtown Lisbon. He asks about returning to NYU to do another one-year program. We also discuss the arrangements he has made for NYU Dentistry’s Dr. Anthony Vernillo to present a lecture at the University of Lisbon in spring 1999.

An Ever-Evolving Partnership

It’s 1999. Tony Vernillo and I land in Lisbon at 1 a.m.—delayed by fog. This is the third city we have visited in three days. We are both exhausted. The work starts early the next day. We fight the traffic in Lisbon (a serious challenge to any outsider), arrive at the dental school, and find our way to the main lecture hall. Introductions are made, and the class begins.

Guests are very well received in European societies, especially in Latin cultures. Students are always respectful, almost deferential at times. So a lecturer can anticipate a polite and attentive audience. The 35 fourth-year students attending Dr. Vernillo’s lecture are all that, and much more. Dr. Vernillo is a gifted teacher who engages his students and invites them into the intellectual arena. This group accepts his invitation with gusto. The hour is filled with intelligent and thoughtful questions, substantial comments, and wonderful insights. It is exhilarating.

Two of the students stand out: Diogo Miguel Moura Libano Monterio and Miguel Vasco Seruca Marques. Diogo had lived in the States during his secondary-school years and speaks idiomatic English. Miguel is less experienced in English, but both are evidently bright and accomplished. Each is about to enter his final year of dental studies. Soon Dr. dos Santos joins the conversation and gives his approval for Diogo and Miguel to come to NYU Dentistry as full-time exchange students for the fall 1999 term.

Before long, it was September, and the two earnest young men were moving into the 26th street dorm. Having full-time exchange students from abroad is a relatively new experience for NYU Dentistry. (The first came from Copenhagen in 1998.) Assessing the students’ training, skills, and experiences in order to place them in the appropriate educational and clinical environment is a tough assignment. But with Diogo and Miguel the task was easy. Their clinical training in Portugal was substantial and their academic work of such high caliber that the two adapted easily to the rigors of the educational program.

Three months later, as Diogo and Miguel prepared to board their plane for Lisbon to complete their final semester, Dr. dos Santos was arriving for his continuing dental education seminar. He traveled with Joaõ Carames, who was now fully engaged in his second international program course at NYU Dentistry.

Meanwhile, Diogo Libano has applied to work with Dennis Tarnow in implant dentistry in 2001. Miguel Seruca plans to do advanced research work in Europe, but we hope he too will be back.