Experiences in Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay Area

Howard Pollick

By Howard Pollick, BDS (U. Manc. 1967)

On my first trip to the USA in 1969, I had visited Berkeley, but returned there in 1979 to attend the University and pursue a master’s degree in public health. I had successfully passed the state dental licensing exam in 1973 and had a private practice in another UC town-Davis.

I was fortunate to be invited to join the faculty at the School of Dentistry at the University of California San Francisco in 1981, having completed a residency in dental public health there. I have been at UCSF ever since.

My wife has had a varied and interesting career in journalism and public policy and we both continue to work full-time. We work and play hard, often with meetings at breakfast, lunch and after work.

However, I keep my priorities right and golfers like me can enjoy dozens of public golf courses all less than an hour away. Housing costs are relatively high, which makes it difficult to relocate to the Bay Area.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to find a home in Berkeley that would become home to the three children we have raised over the past 26 years. Like in most metropolitan areas, we live with fluoridated water, clean air days and a 45-minute commute to work, using a unique casual car pool system. The temperate climate is one of the reasons we stay, although our summer can mean weeks of fog. We may get a few days of exceptional heat, but we don’t have or really need air conditioning. However, just a few miles inland, most homes are air-conditioned.

The San Francisco Bay Area is a most cosmopolitan, and forward-thinking place. From the innovation engines of Silicon Valley to the bustling financial district of San Francisco, the Bay Area is home to vibrant businesses like Genentech, Apple, Hewlett Packard and Google.

Apart from the excitement of the city of San Francisco, the Bay Area is home to every kind of natural beauty. Northern California has beaches and rock-strewn cliffs off the coastline, majestic redwoods and rolling inland hills. The San Francisco Bay lies just an hour south of the Napa valley vineyards, an hour north of the Monterey Bay and is a three hour drive from the majesty of the Sierra Nevada mountains and Lake Tahoe. The lack of conformity is highly valued.

People don’t even look twice at unusual behaviour with the multitude of languages and cultures that come with being on the Pacific Rim. There is exceptional diversity, but little in terms of political differences when it comes to voting; all the state-wide offices are held by Democrats which also control both legislative houses.

Like most places, we have suffered from a recession in recent years with government cuts for the past several years. California has now more than 10% of the population of the US, with increasing needs to help the vast numbers of poor people. The safety net has many holes in it and many thousands are homeless and one cannot completely avoid those asking for handouts on the streets.

I have been at UCSF (University of California San Francisco) since 1981 as a full time faculty member in the biggest of the 4 departments, namely Preventative & Restorative Dental Sciences. My time is split between two of the 7 divisions of the department namely General Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology & Dental Public Health where I provide direct supervision of clinical care of patients being treated by 2nd, 3rd & 4th year students. I am also course director for a large 2nd year course, “Introduction to Comprehensive Care”.

Full time clinical members of faculty are expected to work one day a week in one of the faculty practices, rather than their own outside practice, from which they are expected to generate additional revenue for the faculty, as well as income from research grants.

There are also many volunteer members of faculty contributing one day a week, or fewer, primarily in the clinical teaching programme helping to maintain a ratio of 1 to 8 faculty students. The biggest proportion of the school’s budget however comes from research grants.

UCSF is considered to be the No.1 dental school in the country, and probably the world, in attracting research grants. The dental course is a four year post-baccalaureate programme and is structured similarly to that which I experienced in Manchester in the mid 1960s, that is to say pre-clinical subjects followed by clinical subjects taught in distinct departments, pulling it all together in the final year.

When I started teaching in 1981 the course was an Integrated Problem Based Learning (PBL) type course, as was the case in all the dental schools in the University of California, but was abandoned in the mid 1990s. This was because it was considered to be too inefficient a method of ensuring that all the students were equipped with the essential knowledge required to complete the course and partly because of protests from the students who felt they were not getting the instruction they were paying for.

The cost of the 4 year DDS program including tuition, dental kit, books and supplies, and living costs total about $320,000, and in 2011 we had 1760 applications for 88 places. Government loans are available to all students and can be paid off like a mortgage over 30 years. Students do not seem to be too concerned about this cost as they see it as a great investment in their future.

Why join Somanda?

Become a member

© 2023 Somanda. Terms