A Passion for Education and Research Led Kuwait Dentist to Train at Eastman Institute, Earn PhD

Aug. 29, 2023

When Naemah Alkhars, a junior faculty member at Kuwait University, was pursuing professional growth and development back in 2015, she chose Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s unique four-year faculty development program.

A portrait of Dr. Naemah Alkhars, wearing a lab coat and mask.
Dr. Naemah Alkhars

Now, eight years later, she has become the first foreign-trained EIOH resident to earn her PhD at the University of Rochester.

“I chose Eastman Institute because of its reputation for comprehensive and advanced dental education,” said Dr. Alkhars, who was also drawn to the opportunity of working with a multidisciplinary team. “The program's emphasis on clinical excellence and exposure to diverse cases was also appealing.”

EIOH had established the program just a year earlier, requiring participants to complete its two-year Advanced Education in General Dentistry program, earn a Master of Science or Master of Public Health degree, pass the American Board of General Dentistry exam, and engage in at least two years of part-time teaching. Participants also take graduate courses in education at the Warner School of Education.

But when she finished the demanding program, she wanted more, and with the support of her university in Kuwait, she began her PhD.

“Pursuing my master’s and PhD stemmed from a deep-rooted passion for education,” she explained. “I have always been driven to contribute to the advancement of dental knowledge and to inspire future dental professionals. Research and teaching provide avenues to make a lasting impact on the field and foster the growth of aspiring dentists.”

This month, Dr. Naemah Alkhars, a mother of four children under age 10, successfully defended her thesis, securing a PhD in Translational Biomedical Science from the University of Rochester’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Her thesis explored a three-dimensional approach to the maternal influence on children’s oral health, including the mother’s oral health, children’s feeding behaviors and bacteria transmission.

Dr. Alkhars’ mentor, Jin Xiao, DDS, PhD, EIOH associate professor, couldn’t be prouder.

Dr. Jin Xiao and Dr. Naemah Alkhars stand in front of a plaque about George Eastman.
Dr. Jin Xiao and Dr. Naemah Alkhars

“She has done excellent research work to understand the maternal influence on children’s tooth decay development,” Dr. Xiao said. “Her efforts led to the publication of eight research papers, an outstanding testament to her scholarly excellence. She also won the 2019 Buonocore Research award at the American Association of Dental Research’s Rochester session.”

“The education I received at UR/EIOH was exceptional,” Dr. Alkhars added. “The faculty's commitment to excellence and their profound expertise ensured a well-rounded learning experience and enhanced my confidence. They fostered collaborative learning, and provided guidance not just academically, but also in honing my clinical skills. Their mentorship was instrumental in shaping my professional journey.”

“Unlike traditional study abroad programs, our curriculum includes significant training in clinical and didactic teaching, both through coursework and practice,” said EIOH Director Eli Eliav, DMD, PhD. “Trainees gain substantial involvement in research including clinical trials, teaching and practicing dentistry. The result, as Dr. Alkhars illustrates, is comprehensive preparation for a successful career in academia.”

Dr. Alkhars is serving as assistant professor at Kuwait University in Kuwait, where she’s responsible for mentoring dental students, engaging in clinical practice and research initiatives that address dental needs and align with preventive trends.  

“Balancing motherhood, education, and a career can be demanding and overwhelming,” she added, “but it's achievable with effective time management and a strong support system. Surrounding yourself with a supportive network of family, friends, and colleagues can make a significant difference. Big thanks go to my mentor Dr. Jin Xiao, my husband and parents for their continued support and encouragement.”

For Dr. Alkhars, the future is bright.

“I am excited about diversifying my contributions to the field while addressing evolving challenges.”