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Leadership beckons

Dr. Pete Benson

Dr. Pete Benson, professor
and vice chair of diagnostic
sciences, and director of
the dental school's imaging center,
has accepted two new
leadership appointments.

Photo by Steven Doll

With an Air Force Surgeon General consultant appointment and a four-year CODA term on the horizon, Benson reflects on radiology’s unique career opportunities

Dr. Pete Benson still gets a chuckle from a conversation he had years ago with his daughter Brittany’s elementary school teacher. It was an interesting exchange, to say the least.

“I told her I was a dentist, and she looked at me very strangely. She said, ‘I asked your daughter what you did, and she said you played video games,’” says Benson, professor and vice chair of Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry’s Department of Diagnostic Sciences.

It may have been easy for his daughter to make that correlation at the time, considering Benson spends his days scrutinizing MRIs, CT scans, digital photographs and radiographs in his work as director of the dental school’s Oral and Maxillofacial Imaging Center, which moved to a new facility on the college's first floor just this month.

“I also did explain to her what I did for a living,” Benson adds, pointing out just what drew him to oral and maxillofacial radiology, the newest of the nine recognized dental specialties.

“The best thing about radiology is it’s the most intriguing game I’ve ever played,” says Benson. “It’s a mystery game.”

There’s no doubt Benson is passionate about what he does. He’s been in the dental diagnostics and imaging field for more than 27 years, and 24 of those have been spent right here as a faculty member at TAMHSC-BCD.

Drawing from past experiences, filling new leadership roles

Over the years, Benson’s leadership roles in his field have taken a decidedly upward turn. In May, he was appointed to a three-year term as the Civilian National Consultant in Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology to the U.S. Air Force Office of the Surgeon General. This month, he also was installed as one of the 30 Commission on Dental Accreditation commissioners during the American Dental Association’s Annual Session.

“The best thing about radiology is it’s the most
intriguing game I’ve ever played. It’s a mystery game.”

 — Dr. Pete Benson

It’s been a big year for Benson, and he links the opportunities back to 1999 when he became president of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology and the “stars lined up,” as he puts it.

“It was the 50th anniversary of the academy and it was the year the American Dental Association recognized radiology as a specialty,” Benson recalls. “We were excited because we were the first newly recognized specialty in almost 40 years; it was a monumental achievement.”

Benson, also a diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology and a past president of that organization, acknowledges that the size and newness of his specialty have played a role in his leadership opportunities.

“It expands my opportunities for leadership,” Benson says. “To me, that is one of the advantages of a smaller specialty.”

Gaining a broader perspective

Benson’s four-year term with CODA means he’ll participate in site visits, review policies, and serve as the chairman of the commission’s oral and maxillofacial radiology review committee. While Benson won’t have any external part in TAMHSC-BCD’s upcoming CODA visit, he predicts serving on the commission will help him see how other institutions have addressed problems and created solutions.

“Gaining that broader perspective will help me identify policies and procedures that would increase our effectiveness,” Benson says.

Benson’s appointment as an Air Force Surgeon General’s consultant is a natural extension of his leadership experience but of a different sort. Benson, who has two years of active duty experience as a dental officer in the U.S. Navy and is a retired Navy Reserve captain, comes from a long family lineage of military service.

“I had experience in military health care so I was excited to do it, from that point of view,” says Benson. It didn’t hurt that he had Dr. Diane Flint, an assistant professor in diagnostic sciences, oral and maxillofacial radiologist, and retired career Air Force dental officer, urging him to accept the position.

Through it all, Benson has maintained his teaching role at TAMHSC-BCD for more than two decades. Among his favorite memories is hooding his son, Dr. Andrew Benson, during commencement five years ago.

Having his son in the dental class presented some unique, if not humorous, situations.

For instance, there was the time Benson had started giving a lecture with PowerPoint slides and dimmed the lights. He asked if the class had any questions and was met with a pause.

“From the darkness I heard a voice say, ‘Hey Dad, I’ve got a question,’” Benson says, recalling the laughter that resonated through the room.

“For the next three years, virtually his whole class called me Dad,” Benson says with a laugh.