Published July 13, 2020
For over 125 years, the UB School of Dental Medicine has been educating students and serving the community. Nearly 6,000 alumni now work around the world providing dental care to patients.
Dr. Joe Gambacorta, Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, Clinical Associate Professor in Restorative Dentistry, and now curator of the George W. Ferry Dental Museum is proud to be a part of that history.
Dr. Gambacorta’s passion for Buffalo and UB draws you in. However, it is not the city or the institution that he values; it is the people – his family and friends – who have so powerfully transformed his life.
Dr. Gambacorta grew up in Buffalo, NY in a family that instilled in him the importance of serving his community. Throughout his childhood, he assisted with food and clothing drives that revealed many of the health inequities in his community. However, in looking back, he admits that he did not understand the level of disparities that existed.
A UB graduate (BS ‘89, DDS ‘93), Dr. Gambacorta spent a decade in private practice. With a good word from his brother and encouragement from his long-time mentor, Dr. Samuel Albert, DDS, he applied for a part-time clinical instructor position assisting students within the dental clinic.
At the time, Dr. Gambacorta worked closely with Dr. Bob DeFranco, one of his favorite UB professors, who nurtured and mentored him throughout his studies and into his professional career. In 2012, Dr. DeFranco encouraged him to apply for the Assistant Dean for Clinical Affairs. Dr. Gambacorta applied and received the job.
As Assistant Dean for Clinical Affairs, Dr. Gambacorta spent time listening to concerns and suggestions. He benefited from having built close relationships with the students and he prioritized camaraderie and peer learning by pairing students from different years of study within the clinic.
Moreover, Dr. G, as his students call him, has provided transformative experiences for his students.
In 2006 Dr. Gambacorta accompanied Dr. Renzo Nylander to Ghana for a dental mission. Around the same time the Dental School formed the Buffalo Outreach and Community Assistance program, or BOCA, which coordinated dental assistance internationally – for example, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Senegal, and Sierra Leone – and domestically through Remote Area Medical. These trips shaped the way that Dr. Gambacorta viewed the world. He believed they were important opportunities for dental students and has since worked with partners in 12 countries, sending 1000 students on outreach trips, 150 internationally.
With CGHE, Dr. Gambacorta has shifted the focus of dental missions. The model of care began as short-term missions – fly in and fly out opportunities for UB students to serve others. Missions like these provide short-term care, but they also have long-term consequences on the local health care system and economy. Through training and partnerships, these trips are now shifting to focus on equity through partnership development, collaboration and capacity building with local providers. In 2020, Dr. Gambacorta and colleagues published a book chapter outlining this shift in a global health textbook published by Springer and coordinated by CGHE.
On Meeting Needs
Dr. Gambacorta recognizes the drastic change that has occurred in society with the COVID-19 Pandemic. He takes heart in practitioners who – despite bureaucratic regulations – find a way to meet the needs of people who need care.
His passion for people is ever-present, as is his passion for improving an individual’s well-being through quality health care. In closing, as we discussed the state of the world, Dr. Gambacorta stated, “Every little bit helps. You can have a huge impact by simply saying ‘How are you? How can I help? I can relieve your pain – what is bothering you?’ You don’t realize the importance of authenticity to humanity until you practice it”.
And lucky us, Dr. G practices what he preaches.