Diagnosing Patients and Companies

Elizabeth Roberts flipped to the ads section of the American Dental Association (ADA) journal. This was pre-home-internet, and she researched each company at a nearby library. Then, she penned letters to those that might help her combine her passion for dentistry and business.

One of those letters gave her a big break.

She was hired by Prudential followed by other big names, including Deloitte, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson. Roberts, currently an assistant professor of diagnostic sciences at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine (RSDM), has built herself a unique career merging dentistry and business.

“I was always thinking of taking my degrees forward with something more,” she said, “and keep layering on them.”

Elizabeth Roberts

At the time of writing the letters, Roberts was a dentist for Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Health Departments, providing dental care to children in need as well as to adults with emergencies and to prison inmates. In addition, Roberts managed one of the dental clinics. “That gave me the insights and interest in taking my dental degree to the business side,” she said. She veered in that direction when her husband left the Navy, and she needed a new job.

Prudential was her first stop. She reviewed dental claims and helped launch Prudential’s dental maintenance organization. Concurrently, she received her MBA from Rutgers and got insurance credentials, too. After Prudential, she worked for Delta Dental Plan of New Jersey’s dental maintenance organization. Then she transferred to Deloitte Consulting, helping national clients like Kaiser Permanente and Mutual of Omaha with their business problems. Later, she joined Pfizer to develop international clinical operations for big blockbuster drugs and then advanced into domestic operations. When Pfizer bought Warner-Lambert, which had oral care products like Listerine, Roberts moved to the consumer side. Then her division was acquired by Johnson & Johnson, where she worked with dental organizations like the ADA and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA). She got heavily involved with ADEA and served on its board.

As she retired from Johnson & Johnson, she learned about RSDM’s “From Practice to Preceptor” program that trained professionals to work with students. “I've been using my dental degree in every aspect of treating patients as well as in business,” she said. “To bring it all home into academia felt like a great match.”

She began the program, which in part, took place in the clinic working in the Diagnostic Sciences Department. Later she joined as faculty for three days a week. “Diagnostic Sciences was a great fit for me because I was teaching students how to conduct a complete examination, to interview patients, and to develop treatment plans,” she said. “To me, it’s the same process as solving a consulting problem; businesses are examined, analyzed, diagnosed, and treated.” Besides teaching in the clinic, she gives a seminar on how to help patients break through the noise of commercialism and marketing and facilitates students’ treatment plan seminars. In addition to her Rutgers position, she maintains her consulting practice in her boutique strategy firm.

“I love diagnostic sciences,” she said. “I like the challenges of it and the problem-solving context. I like seeing the aha-moments the students experience as they're starting to put it all together.”