Past RCSEd Dental Deans

Dental involvement with the College began with King James IV deciding to pay his subjects for the privilege of extracting their teeth. Not surprisingly this poor business model failed, but dentistry in the College had royal patronage from the earliest days.

Three presidents were early dental pioneers: James Rae (PRCSEd 1764–1766) and his younger son, John Rae (PRCSEd 1804–1806), and John Smith (PRCSEd, 1883–1884) all practised dentistry almost exclusively. Smith was also a pioneer of dental education: he planned and delivered the first lecture course in dentistry in Scotland and in 1860, with Robert Nasmyth, Francis Imlach (PRCSEd 1879–1882) and Peter Orphoot, founded the Edinburgh Dental Dispensary, which later became the Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School.

The prime mover towards a Dental Faculty was Frederick George Gibbs, FRCSEd, FRCP, FFA (and later) FDSRCSEd. He was apparently held in high esteem by surgeons and dentists as well as his colleagues in the subspecialty of anaesthesia. He was a dental surgeon to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for 20 years. By dint of his personality, hard work and tenacity he played a key role in establishing a Dental Council of the RCSEd and became the first Convener in 1954. It took the efforts of Gibbs and eight consecutive Conveners 28 years to establish the Dental Faculty and with it the election of its first Dean and Convener in 1982.

In the ensuing years, the following have served as Conveners and later Deans of the Dental Faculty:

STEPHEN D HATT (Dental Dean 1982–1983)

Stephen D Hatt lived in Belgium until the age of 12, but continued his education as a boarder at a school in St Albans, England. After the war he read Dentistry at the University of St Andrews then progressed via Manchester to Sheffield, where in 1963 he became a consultant dental surgeon with a special interest in conservative dentistry, becoming President of the British Society for Restorative Dentistry in 1984. In 1980 Hatt became Convener of the Dental Council, bringing to that role the invaluable blend of administrative skill and diplomacy required to complete the transition from Council to Faculty in 1982 and in so doing set the precedent for the creation of other Faculties within the College.



Lawrence D Finch was an innovative oral surgeon who spent much time in creating a new College diploma certifying and expanding the dental specialty of what was then oral surgery into the broader concept of oral and maxillofacial surgery. The new Diploma in Maxillofacial Surgery was open to dental candidates who held both medical and dental qualifications. The first diet was held in January 1985. While welcomed within the College Council, Dental Council raised concerns that those dentists who were not medically qualified but practised minor oral surgery, especially the removal of third molars, might be disadvantaged. Proposals to create a Diploma in Minor Oral Surgery to satisfy these surgical dentists were resisted by many medically qualified oral surgeons, and since Finch was sympathetic to their concerns it was not until 2000 that a relevant diploma for singly qualified dentists came into being.



William ‘Montie’ Oliver was a mature dental graduate of St Andrews University, he became Head of the Department of Operative Dental Surgery and Professor and Director of Dental Education at the University of Liverpool. Prior to becoming Dean he had served on the Dental Council and convened the Dental Examinations Committee, up until then the examination of candidates for the Fellowship in Dental Surgery closely followed the assessment process used for the FRCSEd, but Oliver’s considerable knowledge and experience of university examinations caused the Dental Council to question whether the dental examinations were fit for purpose. This process of regular review of all assessment procedures, aided by expert advice from educationalists, is now firmly established within the Faculty and wider College and this is due in no small part to Oliver’s vision. He established the first conjoint Part 1 FDS/Primary MDS overseas with Singapore. In the UK the 1978 Diploma in Restorative Dentistry was revised and a working party established to create a Diploma in Orthodontics (1978), both of which were upgraded in 1989 to membership level.



John Ferguson Gould had been Secretary to the Dental Fellows during the Deanship of Lawrence Finch. The Dean of the Dental Faculty is ex officio a member of the College Council, but Gould also had the unique distinction of having been elected by his peers to both Councils, although not at the same time. Gould instigated the first FDS Part 1 examination in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and fully participated in the inaugural inter-Faculty discussions about Intercollegiate Specialty Assessments in Dentistry. He instigated a major revision of the Membership in General Dental Surgery. During Gould’s Deanship the custom of triannual overseas visits was still being undertaken. The College had a long association with Kenya, India, Malaysia, Egypt, Bahrain and Singapore, which held Fellowship examinations supervised by visiting Council members. They rotated in holding conferences for Edinburgh Fellows. Useful contacts and friendships were forged.



Dorothy Geddes achieved a triple first: she was the first woman to become a Fellow in Dental Surgery RCSEd, the first woman to be appointed to a Chair in Dentistry in the UK and the first woman to become the Dean of a Faculty of Dental Surgery in the UK. Geddes graduated BDS from Edinburgh University in 1959 and was elected a Fellow in 1963, after which she went to the Eastman Dental Centre in Rochester, New York, where she began her lifelong research into dental caries. After her return to the UK and research at Newcastle University she was appointed a lecturer at Glasgow University and progressed to a personal Chair in 1990. In the College she was an elected member of the Dental Council, but it was when she was elected Dean that her many talents became obvious. She was, unsurprisingly, a very early pioneer of ‘soft skills’ since she was wise, very warmhearted, and had a quick wit and a mischievous sense of humour. Geddes used these talents to make a significant improvement in inter-Faculty relations and oiled the wheels that were beginning to make intercollegiate diplomas appear desirable rather than an enforced necessity. Her artistic talents resulted in the designing of new gowns. As with so many truly capable people, Geddes was humble and did not hesitate to accept support or help whenever she felt the need. Arguably her most important College contribution was establishing us as ‘The Friendly College’.



Wilson became Professor of Restorative Dentistry at Manchester University prior to which he was Dean and Clinical Director of Manchester University Dental Hospital. As Dean of the College Dental Faculty Wilson established the first truly conjoint examinations (a world first) in dentistry and played a major role in establishing an examination in oral medicine in the US. Perhaps his greatest achievement was an ever-increasing share of the expanding UK market for Royal College Dental Diplomas underpinned by strong growth overseas. The Mouatt Report on UK specialist dental training was a contentious issue that ultimately led to the accord between the General Dental Council (GDC) and the Faculties of Dental Surgery. ‘Old style’ FDS had in effect to be replaced by a more attainable, intercollegiate MFDS, which necessitated a vast amount of work on specialty Memberships and intercollegiate Fellowships. Wilson strove, and succeeded, with intercollegiate support, to reposition the Fellowship as the highest diploma. In retrospect this may well be considered his most important achievement.



Murray Meikle read Dentistry at Otago University, graduating in 1962 after which he enjoyed an outstanding academic career. An MSD of the University of Washington in 1969 was followed by research at St John’s College, Cambridge, acknowledged with a PhD in 1976. A fine clinician, he became Head of the Department of Orthodontics and Paediatric Dentistry at the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St Thomas’. Meikle was elected to the Dental Council in 1994 and became Dean in 1998. During his Deanship all diploma examinations were further scrutinised, especially the Membership in Orthodontics, ensuring academic rigour as well as clinical competence. When Dental Council debated the creation of a special lecture to be awarded (when merited) to a Fellow or Member in recognition of a significant contribution to research or education, it was Meikle who suggested the title of King James IV Professor. The Council warmly supported this initiative, but it required royal assent that delayed its implementation. It is now one of the most prestigious awards made by the College and is not confined to Dental Fellows.



That ‘Jim’ McDonald was awarded an Honorary FRCSEd in September 2005, tells you all you need to know about his outstanding contribution to his profession and the College. The Honorary Fellowship is the highest award the College may confer. During his Deanship, ably supported by an enthusiastic Council, the Faculty initiated examinations and educational initiatives in over 10 countries – a massive achievement. As Dean, McDonald had issues with government departments, which struggled to understand the unique position of the Colleges in healthcare regulation. Internationally, it is often difficult to explain the collegiate examination system and expectations to those outside the Commonwealth. Coming from the island of Barra in the Western Hebrides, McDonald brought a particular Highland way of negotiating, which achieved results harmoniously when such an outcome seemed unlikely. The high point of his tenure was representing the Faculty as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations of the College’s founding. A brilliant mix of social, formal and prestigious symposia was achieved and in which the Dental Faculty played its part to the full.



As Professor of Oral Surgery at Bristol University Jonathan Cowpe was a courteous, effective, hands-on Dean supported by an enthusiastic Dental Council, a dedicated and expert Convener of Dental Examinations and a hugely professional team of four in the Faculty Office. With this team, Cowpe was able to exploit the high profile of the Faculty overseas following the quincentennial celebrations in Bahrain and Hong Kong. Arguably the most significant achievement of his Deanship was the considerable improvements made to the quality assurance processes and procedures. With 13 dental specialties the challenge had been to ensure that the chairs and members of the Specialty Advisory Boards (SABs) fully engaged with modern educational theory and practice, that diploma examinations were amended where necessary to be fit for purpose, and that parity of standard across the specialties was ensured. An FDS by Assessment for holders of the Membership in Primary Dental Care, a new diploma in implant dentistry, a diet of the M.Orth in Adelaide, and the M.Oral Med and FDS International in the US were also successfully achieved under Cowpe’s Deanship.



As well as being a consultant in Oral Medicine, David Felix was, during his Deanship, also Associate Postgraduate Dental Dean, NHS Education for Scotland. These responsibilities, coupled with having six years previous experience as Secretary to the Dental Faculty, made him highly efficient and the perfect choice of Dean to consolidate all the initiatives and changes that had taken place in previous years. The result was a significant growth in membership, especially in Egypt, where Cairo became the Faculty’s largest overseas examination centre. At the time SAB representation on Council was a delicate issue since chairs of SABs could attend Dental Council but some were not elected members of Council. Felix skilfully navigated a compromise whereby a special annual meeting of SAB chairs took place, but with the proviso that should a difficult or contentious matter arise, then a request from a chair to attend Council for that item would be considered.



Richard Ibbetson graduated from Guy’s Hospital in 1974 and after experience in GDP both in the UK and Canada he went to the Eastman Dental Institute in London, where he rose to the rank of Head of the Department of Conservative Dentistry and Vice-dean. In 2011 he became Professor of Restorative Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London. During his Deanship of the Dental Faculty he effectively chaired the Council as well as the Intercollegiate Advisory Committee for Sedation in Dentistry. Within the College Ibbetson was appreciated as a superb clinician and engaging lecturer who regularly scored at the highest level in feedback from students. His warm personality and excellent front-of-house skills were much appreciated, especially overseas. Ibbetson’s rapport with students brought the Faculty many candidates who wanted to join the Friendly College.



William ‘Bill’ Saunders graduated from the Royal Dental Hospital in 1970, served in the RAF for five years and then worked in general practice for six years. Appointed lecturer at Dundee Dental Hospital in 1981, his academic career culminated in the Deanship of Dundee Dental Hospital (2000–2011). He was elected to the Dental Council from 1999 to 2009 and again in 2011. In 2014 he was elected Dean. Being retired from university life, he devoted all his time to the Faculty and the College. With the Dental Executive he worked to produce a strategic plan that would fit with College imperatives. This meant expanding the examination portfolio, especially overseas. Saunders was keen to be more inclusive, especially for dental care professionals. The Faculty of Dental Trainers was created during his tenure, allowing all members of the dental team to join that Faculty to promote and support training. Being effectively a full-time Dean meant that he could also forge strong relationships with surgeons, Office Bearers and other Faculties. For outstanding service to dentistry and the College, Saunders was awarded an Honorary FRCSEd. It was richly deserved.



Fraser McDonald graduated BDS from Birmingham in 1980 and, skilfully combining time in general practice with serious academic pursuits, acquired the FDSRCS Eng. in 1984, MSc in 1985, M.Orth in 1988, Ph.D in 1992 and FDS. RCSEd in 1998. An outstanding research portfolio contributed to the award of a King James IV Professorship in 2002. Election to the Dental Council followed in 2009. During this tenure he chaired the Specialty Board in Orthodontics and found time to serve on the SAC for orthodontics. During his term as Dean the role of Regional Advisor was replaced by Ambassador to great effect. He encouraged examiners to work as a group, motivated younger professionals to engage with the College and appreciate the College as a charity. McDonald helped raise funds for the College and helped establish a teaching scholarship for which people could apply. Less well known but quietly appreciated by the College was the compassionate attitude McDonald brought to the Faculty, having served voluntarily with Dentaid in Uganda and Kenya.



Philip Taylor graduated from Newcastle in 1981 and spent the early years of his career working in primary care in northeast England, taking the MGDS before heading to London to undertake a Master’s degree, MRD and FDS in Edinburgh. He then had several years in part-time private practice in Harley Street and as lecturer in gerodontology at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). This culminated in a personal Chair in Prosthodontics at QMUL, where Taylor was an Honorary Consultant in Restorative Dentistry for Barts Health NHS Trust and Clinical Director of Dentistry, OMFS and Ophthalmology for 10 years. He was the President of the British Society of Prosthodontics and the British Society of Teachers in Conservative Dentistry. He brought a wealth of professional experience from clinical dentistry to academic and management expertise. He never shirked from the challenging issues he encountered at the College. He was a strong voice for dentistry within the wider College which gained much respect. Taylor took on the role during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and led the Faculty and College administration very effectively in moving to online activity also maintaining administrative and educational activity. He oversaw updating of the Faculty’s administration processes. He was instrumental in introducing a series of sub-specialty diploma examinations related to the GDC dental specialties as part of the Faculty’s support of wider career progression in dentistry.


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