By Diane Haring Cornell
For Susan Hill, life has had its ups and downs. Literally.
A roller coaster enthusiast, Ms. Hill, administrative director
of the Division of Continuing Dental Education, has traversed
the country in search of the perfect ride. And while to her,
riding a roller coaster that has good "air time" (the
moments your body leaves the seat) is the ultimate thrill, nothing
could prepare her for the low point her life reached in December
1998, when a series of vague and slightly uncomfortable symptoms
were diagnosed as ovarian cancer.
Ms. Hill, 49, had gone to the doctor initially to be treated
for deep vein thrombosis and was put on a blood thinner. While
there, she off-handedly mentioned some things that were giving
her discomfort, but were not acute. She often felt bloated, but
dismissed it as being out of shape. She simply thought she needed
to do more exercise to combat the affects of aging. Digestive
discomfort was common, but Ms. Hill attributed it to something
"I was fortunate that my one problem led to my other problem
being diagnosed," says Ms. Hill, who does not want sympathy
for herself, but rather that, in hearing her story, others may
become more aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. "So
often this disease goes undetected because the warning signs
are so silent." She is grateful that her physicians paid
attention to her complaints and were astute enough to realize
their possible meaning. This lead to a fortunate early diagnosis
and subsequently, a good response to chemotherapy.
Ultimately, Ms. Hill endured eight cycles of chemotherapy over
six months, losing her hair, fighting nausea and fatigue-all
with her usual good humor and discipline that has led her to
be thought of so fondly by her colleagues at the New Jersey Dental
Dr. Jerome Engel, dental director of CDE, works closely with
Ms. Hill and says she is an excellent administrator.
"She is very innovative and stays up-to-date on what's going
on throughout the country in continuing education," comments
Dr. Engel. "She knows how to get the best out of our faculty
for our programs."
The administrator began her career at UMDNJ 25 years ago, when a stint
at substitute teaching in the Newark public school system led her to change
her career plans in a hurry. "Every day it was, 'Let's torment the
substitute,'" she recalls. It was the mid-'70s, during the teacher
crunch, and jobs in elementary education were hard to come by. While trying
to sort out her options, she took a job as a secretary in the Department
of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New Jersey Medical School and was quickly
In 1980 she transferred to Continuing Education and became secretary
to Dr. Robert Moutrie, who is now associate vice president for
continuing education. He encouraged her to go back for her master's
degree. With more training, she gradually took over the responsibilities
of managing and coordinating the program at the dental school.
At the time, the department was in its infancy.
"We started out with one person-me-and offering six programs
a year. Now we have a staff of five peopleplus the support
of the Center for Continuing Educationand offer 75 to 90
programs annually," Ms. Hill notes. "Our courses run
the gamut from evening lectures to a 40-week, hands-on workshop.
It's a comprehensive program that can meet the individual needs
of dentists, whether they want to focus on a particular area
or need more broad-based experience."
In order to develop new programs and stay on top of current trends, Ms.
Hill canvases faculty and department chairs, scans dental literature,
and surveys past course registrants. She also stays active in many professional
organizations which also help to keep course offerings current.
Over the years, the incentives for dentists to seek out more
education have changed, and Ms. Hill tries hard to have that
reflected in the course offerings. When AIDS first emerged as
a widespread threat in the '80s, infection control courses were
extremely popular. Lately, courses in esthetic procedures, implantology,
and working with new dental materials have fared well.
Ms. Hill sees the next major area of interest to be in the use
of technology. She is now learning more about the Internet and
how it can be used to teach practitioners online. The school
currently offers one Internet courseon orofacial painthat
is developed and facilitated by Dr. Richard Pertes. Recently,
18 dentists from around the world went online for the information
during a three-month period.
"The program and I have grown together," Ms. Hill says.
"I attempt to learn more about the process of dental education
so that I can improve our program and keep up with the
Ms. Hill's outlook is upbeat about the continuing dental education
program and her own future. Despite not being able to enjoy her
beloved roller coastersdoctors advised against it because
her blood thinning medication would put her at too much risk
for internal bleeding if she were injured-she has other things
to keep her heart pounding. Namely, her fiancé, Bob Lordi,
whom she met at a singles dance in January 1998. It was he, along
with family and colleagues, who kept up her spirits after her
As for her betrothed, Ms. Hill says he is a wonderful man who,
incredibly to her, had never been on a roller coaster before
two summers ago. Now, thanks to her interest, "he just loves
it." The couple are members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts,
a group 4,000 strong who vacation together, hold conferences,
and keep journals, all for the love of roller coasters. Her favorite
ride is Magum XL-200 at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky,
Ohio. It is 200 feet tall and very steep. Other favorites are
old wooden roller coasters, which give a different, livelier
ride than most modern steel coasters.
With her love of rides and her unbridled enthusiasm (she describes
chemotherapy as "not as bad as I expected"), it is
no wonder Ms. Hill has chosen to be married at Walt Disney World
this May. She says of the site: "We just wanted to have
a little fun." After the ups and downs of her life last
year, it's about time.
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