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Oral Surgery Endowment Completes Circle of Giving for Dr. Katz

Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 2:03pm

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Houston oral surgeon Bernard Katz, DDS, MSD, and wife Gloria Pepper Katz have created the first endowed chair in the history of UTSD's Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. 

You’ve likely heard of the concept of “paying it forward” – giving without expectation of reciprocation, but with the hope that the recipient will pass along the kindness to another person in need in the future.

For Bernard Katz, DDS, MSD, creating the first endowed chair for the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMS) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry is his way of paying it forward … and back.

Katz and his wife, Gloria Pepper Katz, have committed $500,000 to establish the second endowed chair in the school’s 109-year history. Current OMS Department Chair and Professor Mark E. Wong, DDS, will be the first holder of this endowed position.

“They gave so much to me,” Katz said of the School of Dentistry, where he earned his DDS in 1962 and completed his MSD in oral surgery in 1965. “I felt I needed to give back to them.” 

The Katzes hope the endowment will help the OMS Department continue to grow and help faculty and students for years to come. But the endowment also pays tribute to Bernard’s mother, Dr. Sonia Katz — a physician who gave up her practice to devote herself to her husband, retailer William Katz, and their four sons and daughter.

“My mother was one of the first women to graduate from the National University of Mexico,” Katz said with pride. “Before she enrolled in medical school, she first taught herself Spanish by reading books.”  

His mother and her family emigrated from Russia in the 1920s with the intended destination of America, but wound up staying in Mexico due to U.S. limitations on immigration at the time. The young physician practiced in Mexico briefly before meeting her future husband, who was an American citizen. The couple soon wed and made their home in El Paso, where they began their family.

Gloria Katz said she’s pleased about what this gift represents to her husband, both as a thank-you to the school and in homage to his spirit of caring for others, as instilled by his mother.

“Bernard loves to tell the story of how his mother treated the neighborhood kids’ bumps and bruises, and then would give them milk and cookies,” Gloria said. “The [dental] school is where he got his start, and this is what he wanted, so it’s what I wanted. It’s a beautiful gesture.”

Tradition of caring continues

Bernard Katz is a former part-time clinical professor at the School of Dentistry and counts among his mentors the late Edward C. Hinds, DDS, MD, the first chair of the Department of OMS.

“I was always very mechanically inclined,” Katz recalled, noting that oral surgery takes full advantage of his mechanical skills and mental acuity.

He remembers rotations at the then-new Ben Taub Hospital, and the early days at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center being particularly rewarding, especially when he was able to help patients following traumatic injury, or those in need of reconstructive surgery following cancer treatments.

Katz started his own successful practice in Houston in the fall of 1965 and continues to work three days a week. “I still love practicing oral surgery,” he said.

Freedom of choice

No restrictions have been placed on the new endowed chair, except that the funds must be spent for the OMS Department. That’s intentional.

“This endowment is to let the department decide what they want to do,” Katz emphasized. “Let them utilize it as they see fit.”

Mark Wong, DDS

Mark E. Wong, DDS

According to the department’s current leader, Dr. Mark Wong, the greatest current need is recruiting and retaining OMS faculty. Nationwide, faculty to teach the discipline are in critically short supply.

The issues? “Money, the complexities of institutional practice, and inadequate resources to stimulate and nurture the academic instinct,” Wong said.  “Practicing oral and maxillofacial surgeons generally earn much more than the average salary of an OMS faculty member.”

OMS was fourth on the “2013 Highest Paid Jobs in America” by U.S. News & World Report.

While attracting faculty is getting more difficult, OMS as a specialty is more popular than ever, and with roughly 56 percent of applicants gaining residency spots, competition is intense and even more so for positions in UTHealth’s OMS program, with an acceptance rate of 2.8 percent.

Wong said one example of how the Katzes’ gift will help the OMS Department is by providing support for faculty to acquire cutting-edge expertise. While it is essential that faculty stay current on new techniques and develop key networking and research contacts, travel and “sabbatical” support are often the first items cut from lean academic budgets.
 
New equipment and other faculty needs “not covered by run-of-the-mill funding” could also be supported through the Katzes’ gift.

But Wong is clear about the ultimate goal:  “As the largest and one of the most established OMS departments in the country, we plan to pursue initiatives that will allow us to continue to distinguish ourselves and not rest upon past achievements,” he said.

Serving as an inspiration

Of Wong — the first to hold the new endowed chair — Katz said, “He’s a terrific teacher and a terrific person. Everyone who has worked with him has emerged very knowledgeable in the area of OMS. After all, he’s one of the best in the business.”
 
In turn, Wong described Katz as one of the school’s most stalwart supporters and expressed particular pleasure that the endowment was earmarked specifically for OMS.  “Maybe this [gift] will also serve as the kind of inspiration that you can do something to recognize a specialty and advance it,” Wong said.

He hopes it might spark others to support specific departments that have personal meaning to the donors. “Together, we can build a much stronger department,” he said.

Wendy Mohon is a freelance writer based in Dallas. A graduate of the University of Houston, she has extensive experience writing about health-care topics. Contact her at wendykm@gmail.com.