PIPE's New Dental Lead: Jennifer Perkins, MD, DDS

Jennifer Perkins, DDS, MD, is the Executive Director of Clinical Education for the School of Dentistry predoctoral program and an associate professor of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery. She joined PIPE as the dental lead and brings a wealth of experience working with dental students in various capacities throughout their curriculum.

"I'm looking forward to helping our students feel more integrated into PIPE and increase their perception of how they can contribute and learn, understanding the place that PIPE has in their broader education," said Perkins.

Becoming a dentist comes with unique challenges, as oral care requires tremendous detail and being able to comfort the fears of patients. Furthermore, Perkins points to the tremendous leap that students are expected to make upon arrival to the DDS program, from learning a vast amount of information within a short period of time to becoming a professional.

“It’s like a hidden curriculum, where the only way that a student really learns how they are going to assume the identity of being the dentist is a bit by trial and error. Dentists don’t have mandatory residency; they do all of their clinical work in the DDS degree towards graduating as an attending level autonomous provider.”

The PIPE sessions, like the one on October 4, add value by having all of the professional students consider their roles, how they behave, and what the norms and expectations are in relation to each other. Perkins emphasizes teaching the value of humanism as an educator and being empathetic.

She said, “The kind of provider that students will be and the kind of care that they’ll provide stems, at least in part, from the experiences they have on our training grounds. We talk about keeping it as humane as possible and supportive as possible while they are doing things that are really hard. It’s scary to pick up a handpiece for the first time and cut a tooth on a live person.”

Dental students are unique in that they serve as the primary provider to their patients. They can take care of the same people for several years and build relationships with them. While healthy people may not routinely undergo an annual physical exam, many will regularly visit the dentist every six months, which provides dentists with an opportunity to observe their patient’s overall health over time, and across family generations. Perkins, who has degrees in dentistry and medicine, has detected cancer, HIV, new-onset diabetes, and severe hypertension in patients, leading to critical medical interventions.

And while dentists can offer important insights into patients’ overall health, dentists often have less opportunities to interact and engage with colleagues from other health professions. Perkins is prioritizing onboarding full-time faculty into interprofessional education to help meaningfully incorporate SOD into PIPE and support more SOD engagement with peers at other schools.

Perkins has extensive UC experience throughout her career and education, earning a BS in biochemistry and cell biology from UC San Diego, a DDS from UCLA, and an MD from UC Davis, before joining UCSF on a General Surgery internship, a subsequent Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery residency, and then as a faculty member.

She praises the world-class researchers at UCSF, remarking, “To be able to have my clinical practice at the Precision Cancer Medical Building in the midst of such brilliant minds is phenomenal.”

As an educator, she is also effusive of the students across the health professions. “UCSF students are exceptionally bright, which is fantastic and makes it really fun to teach here. Talking to the students at the interprofessional session last Monday, they were so smart and engaged with amazing careers ahead of them.”