Interview: EFP Alumnus

Doctor Giacomo Baima interviews EFP Alumnus Doctor Mario Romandini

Dr. Mario Romandini completed his EFP program a few years ago, and since then, his professional journey has been remarkable! He was recently appointed as Associate Professor at the University of Oslo, where he also serves as co-director of the EFP-accredited postgraduate program. Additionally, he has taken on the prestigious role of Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Periodontal Research. At a young age, his accomplishments are impressive and inspiring.

On this interview, Doctor Giacomo Baima, member of the EFP Alumni committee, interviews Doctor Mario Romandini about his professional career, and the path that has led him to this point, offering inspiration to young alumni aspiring to pursue a meaningful career in both clinical practice and research.

 How did your journey to become a dentist begin? Why did you choose periodontology?

By pure chance. Let’s say I am a failed soccer player! Until 18 years of age, I was indeed under contract with the youth team of a professional soccer club. School was far from being a priority for me. Suddenly, during a training session, I realized I was literally wasting my time. I felt that something nobler was my true calling. At that time, my group of friends were preparing for the very competitive exam we have in Italy for entering medical and dental university. I always liked hard challenges, and - despite not even my parents would have bet a coin - I got accepted into both the medical and dental school. I initially went for the former, but to make a long story short, it was my father's dream of becoming a dentist that influenced my final decision a few days after. What I love about periodontology is that it mixes the attention to the extreme microsurgical detail with aspects of pure science. And then everybody knows that periodontology is for overthinkers, and for sure, at that time I used to champion this discipline!

How significant was Madrid's EFP accreditation in your choice of a postgraduate course? What benefits did you experience studying periodontology at an EFP-accredited university?

When I was a dentistry undergraduate student, my dream was to cross the ocean to pursue the american dream. Then I met a former Madrid EFP alumnus, now Professor Nicola Discepoli, who emphasised to me that Europe had nothing to envy. It was then that I discovered the EFP programs online and I was introduced to my current mentor Professor Mariano Sanz, who invited me to visit his program in Madrid. I found a place where everything was focused on education, but which also excelled in research and clinical practice, both primarily carried out by EFP students. Importantly, the role of these students did not end once they graduated. Indeed, the sense of belonging - and also gratitude toward his leader Mariano Sanz - was keeping the most brilliant students there to give back what they received to newcomers and continue learning by sharing their knowledge, in a virtuous circle. This is the magic of EFP programs, where being an alumnus does not end at graduation but it is for life.

And how does it feel now that you are a distinguished professor at the recently EFP-accredited Department of Periodontology at University of Oslo?

The University of Oslo boasts a rich legacy. Over 60 years ago, Jens Wærhaug - one of the pioneers of periodontology - was indeed a Professor here. He had two students, Sigurd Ramfjord and Harald Löe. As everyone knows, both are now regarded as the fathers of modern periodontology. After studying at the University of Oslo, Ramfjord indeed moved to the University of Michigan, where he became a Professor and significantly contributed to modern, evidence-based, periodontology in the United States. Harald Löe, after moving to Aarhus and becoming a Professor in periodontology, played a pivotal role in founding European Periodontology before later moving to the U.S. too. In a way, modern periodontology originated here. Therefore, to answer your question, being here makes me feel a part of this rich history.

As your friend, I was very much cheered about your new appointment as one of the youngest Editor-in-Chiefs in the medical field. For sure the Journal of Periodontal Research is also a challenge gravid from the weight of history… 

Yes, much like the University of Oslo, the Journal of Periodontal Research carries indeed a distinct legacy with its name, as it has represented for decades the premier journal in periodontology. It was founded in 1965 by Harald Löe, who - as I mentioned before - was originally a scholar from the University of Oslo too. Currently at the University of Oslo myself, more than one person has joked that history is repeating itself. However, I have to confess that currently I feel much closer to one of his dental student volunteers in the “Experimental gingivitis in men” study than to Harald Löe himself. History will tell if I am wrong!

What are the main challenges for the Journal of Periodontal Research ahead of you? And what are the exciting plans?

In these first months, the main focuses have been to expand the scope of the journal, build an excellent and smooth peer-review process, and bring together in the editorial team all the best minds of our present, past, and future generations in periodontology and implant dentistry. Regarding the first point, while maintaining our historical space for top-notch basic and translational research on periodontitis, we now also give space to the best clinical research and other important aspects of modern periodontology (e.g., soft and hard tissue management, biomaterials, and implant dentistry). We have also successfully implemented a rigorous, top-quality, constructive, and very fast peer-review process (our current record is two articles accepted 37 days after the first submission!). Lastly, we have launched an international call to select the members of the new editorial team, which raised a great deal of enthusiasm and success, allowing us to bring on board the vast majority of the most brilliant clinicians and researchers around the world. Being one of the protagonists of the Journal of Periodontal Research is now very cool, I dare say!

Many other novelties are coming: it would be impossible to describe them all within a few words. What I can promise is that we will be a cool journal, with a juvenile style but rich in history. We aim to publish the top-notch research in the field and to make our protagonists all the current and next-generation top-scientists in the World.

I heard that you received an invitation for tea and biscuits at Jan Lindhe’s home lately. Can the details of your conversation be available to the rest of mankind?

Of course, it has been a great honor for me. Speaking with him was like being brought back to the ancient and most important eras of periodontology, which I literally re-lived for the duration of a tea. At the same time, I was impressed by how he still holds a revolutionary mind, with many brilliant ideas for the future of our field, even breaking some of the current dogmas. Lastly, I was also extremely surprised by his incredible humility. For instance, when I asked him for the recipe to become the new Jan Lindhe, he replied: ‘It was not much about me being me, Mario. You know, at my time everything was much easier’. Said by the one who made the history of periodontology… The details of this meeting, which I will cherish forever in my highest memories, will be available to everybody soon: stay tuned!

What is the best slice of your daily academic involvement if you have to pick one among clinics, research or education?

I love to teach because, from the perspective of an academician, teaching is the most rewarding satisfaction. I view teaching as a way to give back what I have received. But, as I always say, each of us can be just a good clinician, just a good educator, or just a good researcher. However, the only way to excel is to be involved in all three components together. It's the only way to truly reach the highest level in each one of the three. Therefore, I always try to balance the three aspects. I am primarily a clinician, but I consider myself almost at the same level as an educator and researcher.

Your involvement in research dates back to your early days. What was the magic trigger that sparked your interest?

It's all about impact. When you think about it, clinical activities involve treating one patient at a time. In education, you teach five, fifty, or even some thousand people, instructing them on how to treat one patient each in the same unit of time. Therefore, the impact of education is multiplicative compared to treating your own patients. However, in research, if you conduct top-quality work, you can influence millions of dentists who, in the same unit of time, will each treat one patient. The impact of research is therefore exponential compared to other activities. This is what attracts me to research.

What advice would you offer someone just starting their studies at an EFP-accredited program or considering applying to one?

Dear friend, choose the people, not the place! History teaches us that all the most fervent places were not about the buildings, but they were made by the exceptional personalities leading them. Just to make a few examples, this was true for Henry Goldman in Boston, Sigurd Ramfjord in Michigan, Harald Løe in Aarhus, Jan Lindhe in Goteborg, Klaus Lang in Bern, Maurizio Tonetti in his five years in London, and Mariano Sanz in Madrid.

Once accepted into a program, strive to excel in clinics, research, and knowledge, so you can be strong and brave across the entire field. When you are learning, you need to learn it all. It’s too easy to be the best in just one technique. A true specialist is someone who masters all techniques and concepts, and then chooses the appropriate one based on the specific clinical indication. Be yourself, stay highly motivated, and always pay attention to details. Finally, be ambitious enough to be among those who advance the field. As someone once said: “Stay hungry, stay foolish!”