James Burns, D.D.S., Ph.D., M.S.Ed.
Associate dean for clinical dental education
The associate dean for clinical dental education, James C. Burns’ affiliation with the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry stretches more than four decades.
“I came here as a dental student in 1968, graduated in 1972 and, in the process, got so enamored with academic dentistry that I decided I wanted to be a teacher at a dental school,” Burns said.
After serving a four-year obligation to the military following his graduation, Burns returned to VCU for a combined Ph.D. program and oral pathology residency. Joining the faculty in June 1978, he has risen to his current leadership role where, in addition to serving as chair for the Department of Oral Diagnostic Sciences , he also oversees the curriculum of the Clinical Dental Education program.
“We believe that the School of Dentistry has one major mission, and that is to graduate competent, entry-level general dentists,” Burns said. “Our goal is to have a person who can walk out of here in May of their D4 year and be a general dentist. We firmly believe that in order to be a specialist, you have to be a good generalist first.”
As a means of achieving that objective, Burns and the School of Dentistry emphasize interaction among all the school’s various departments, students and staff.
“One strength we have here is how our programs all integrate with one another,” Burns said. “At other schools, quite often they are totally independent silos — they don’t talk to one another. Here, it’s like one big, happy family. We all work together because that’s how things work in the real world.”
A professor as well, Burns also stresses the importance of continuing education to his students.
“We put a lifelong learning lesson into our curriculum so that our students realize that when they graduate, that’s not the end of their education,” he said. “Instead, it’s the beginning of a new life where they are, every year, having to look at evidence-based dentistry and think critically. That’s what it takes to become an expert in dentistry.”