Welcoming Dr. John Ahern, New Integration Fellow

November 4, 2019
John Ahern, Integration Fellow
John Ahern, Integration FellowAfter spending six months as a Fulbright Scholar in HSDM’s Office of Global and Community Health in 2016, John Ahern, MD, DMD, MPH, PhD, has returned to Harvard School of Dental Medicine to work with the Initiative to Integrate Oral Health and Medicine. Ahern arrived in August and will serve as the Initiative’s Integration Fellow through the summer of 2020.

A native of Ireland, Ahern trained as both a dentist and a physician at Trinity College, the University of Dublin, and worked for several years as a clinician in both medical and dental roles. While working as a clinician, he earned a master’s degree in public health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Ahern gained further experience in the field of public health by working with the World Health Organization oral health program in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ahern recently completed his PhD in population health medicine, public health, and primary care at his alma mater, Trinity College, and brings a unique perspective to the Initiative to Integrate Oral Health and Medicine. Ahern pursued his PhD part-time, ensuring that he was able to study and explore how sustainable collaborative practice between dentists and primary care medical teams could be achieved in Ireland. His thesis focused on two specific areas: incorporating oral health as a part of routine diabetes care in Ireland, and developing a model of care to support an oral cancer prevention strategy in primary care.

After meeting Jane Barrow, associate dean for Global and Community Health at HSDM and executive director of the Initiative to Integrate Oral Health and Medicine, in 2014, Ahern became interested in working alongside HSDM’s integration efforts. Ahern applied for a Fulbright scholarship and has been collaborating with HSDM ever since.

“For me, the best part about working with this team is that we are all contributing to changing the conversation about oral health, and in doing so, potentially changing the culture that exists around oral health,” said Ahern. “I think if we can shape the culture, we may be able shape the values, interests, and skills of health professionals, health educators, and other key stakeholders.”

Ultimately, integrating oral health and primary care would dramatically change the landscape of healthcare delivery. Ahern is passionate about developing strong primary care-based health systems and measuring the impact this would have on patient care and patient outcomes. He believes that the Initiative to integrate Oral Health and Medicine has a unique opportunity to be a leader in ensuring that integration remains at the forefront of the conversation about healthcare.

John Ahern, Integration Fellow“In my opinion, HSDM is seen as a champion of oral health integration, not just nationally, but internationally,” he said. “The importance of a champion in this area cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to advancing the national conversation. I believe the Initiative plays an integral part in HSDM’s ability to be a thought leader in this field.”

Ahern’s findings during his PhD research indicated that although there are many opportunities for oral health integration, there is currently no culture of collaborative practice between medical and dental professionals in Ireland, making it challenging to support oral health integration in a sustainable way. That being said, Ahern is hopeful that the culture that exists around oral health will continue to change. “I do believe that the work that is being done by the Initiative in this space, and by our collaborators, will be hugely instrumental in changing the existing culture over the next ten years.”