Reinventing modern dental education

A $5 million gift to the UNC Adams School of Dentistry integrates career preparation and leadership training in the school’s new curriculum.

Richard and Angela Workman and Ed Swift, interim dean.
Dr. Richard and Angela Workman and Ed Swift, interim dean of the UNC Adams School of Dentistry (Photo by Chris Pope)

Students at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry will continue learning valuable leadership skills to help them excel in their careers as oral health professionals, thanks to a $5 million gift to the school from Dr. Richard and Angela Workman. 

The Workmans’ gift establishes The Dr. and Mrs. Richard E. Workman Dental Leadership Endowment Fund. The fund will support innovative leadership courses – including Bell Leadership Institute courses – and professional development initiatives for students in the school’s Doctor of Dental Surgery, post-DDS and dental hygiene programs. 

“We know that honing leadership skills is foundational to positive patient outcomes and that dental teams deliver their best level of care when led by thoughtful and collaborative oral health professionals,” said Ed Swift, interim dean of the Adams School. “We are incredibly grateful for the investment in this professional development by the Workmans, and the work that the Bell Leadership Institute team puts in to ensure our students graduate with strong leadership skills.” 

With a focus on reinventing modern dental education beyond classic clinical training, the Adams School of Dentistry launched its new Advocate-Clinician-Thinker, orACT, curriculum in 2021. ACT offers students training in leadership, person-centered care, effective decision making, practice management and behavioral sciences.  

The Dr. and Mrs. Richard E. Workman Dental Leadership Endowment Fund ensures leadership training programs become a permanent part of the ACT curriculum. 

“While they are in dental school, students obviously should focus on obtaining the technical and clinical skills needed to enter the profession,” Richard Workman said. “But over the course of their careers, the advancement of their leadership skills will be the most important variable on their influence within their practice, family and community. That is why I am so honored to establish the endowment that will bring Bell Leadership courses to all students at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry.” 

As medical technology and the practice of dentistry rapidly evolve, the Adams School of Dentistry has committed to preparing its students to become nimble caregivers capable of critical thinking and adaptable to new technologies, changing disease demographics and emerging health care models.  

The Adams School of Dentistry and the ACT curriculum also exemplify UNC-Chapel Hill’s focus on integrating career preparation opportunities into the student experience. Carolina is strategically committed to ensuring students are equipped to adapt in a rapidly changing global economy and workplace landscape. 

“The Bell Leadership Institute is excited to be part of UNC Adams School of Dentistry’s significant initiative to build future leaders in our university,” said Dr. Gerald Bell, founder and CEO of the Bell Leadership Institute. “Dr. Richard and Angela Workman’s leadership and support for leadership development within the dental profession and the dental school curriculum provides an important foundation to help dental professionals become even more effective leaders and contributors in their communities and practices.” 

Tang Blanton ’25 (DDS)has participated in leadership programming through the ACT curriculum and said it has been an ideal complement to the training he is receiving at the Adams School of Dentistry. 

“The Bell Leadership lessons at the beginning of base camp were a chance to envision the kind of professional I wanted to be and look to my peers for what they considered essential in a good leader,” said Blanton. “Through this first year, I’ve tried to keep those lessons in mind and use them as a framework around which I can grow.” 

An innovator and leader in the field and practice of dentistry, Richard Workman founded Heartland Dental in 1997. A Southern Illinois University graduate, Workman started his career with a single dental office in Effingham, Illinois. Angela Workman is a University of Missouri graduate, a former Heartland Dental employee and a member of the Heartland Foundation Advisory Board. Heartland Dental is the world’s largest dental service organization, supporting more than 2,400 doctors in 1,600 offices across 38 states.  

In 2020, the Workmans contributed $1 million in expendable funds to launch leadership training programs for dental students developed and led by Dr. Gerald Bell, founder and CEO of the Bell Leadership Institute and adjunct professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. Founded in 1972, the Bell Leadership Institute has worked with more than 5,000 organizations in more than 50 countries through consulting, coaching, training seminars and lecture series. 

This recent $5 million gift from the Workmans counts towardthe Campaign for Carolina, the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the University’s history. With a $4.25 billion goal announced in Oct. 2017, the campaign is guided by two core tenets: “Of the Public, for the Public” and “Innovation Made Fundamental.” The campaign will close on Dec. 31, 2022.