USC University of Southern California

Where Are They Now?—Brent Ward DDS ’96

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Brent Ward DDS ’96

On any given Tuesday, Brent Ward DDS ’96, MD can be found in a surgical suite for hours working on some of the most demanding cases. His job often has him star- ing through a microscope, stitch- ing together blood vessels—some as small as a millimeter wide—to restore form and function to pa- tients who’ve lost tissue to oral cancer.

It takes a steady hand, a skill the Ostrow alumnus—who went on to get a medical degree before becoming director of the University of Michigan’s Oral, Head and Neck Oncology and Microvascular Surgery program—says he developed because of Ostrow and its perfection-demanding professors. We caught up with Ward to talk about life post-dental school.

Brent Ward DDS '96
Brent Ward DDS ’96

What did you want to do when you graduated from Ostrow?
My plan was to spend four years at the University of Michigan [for a Certificate in Oral and Maxil- lofacial Surgery] and then look for a private dental practice back in Southern California. But two things happened: My wife and I began hav- ing some feelings that Ann Arbor was a long-term home for us, and I was given an opportunity to go to medical school. When I initially made inquiries at Michigan, one of the agreements was if they were able to get a medical program run- ning, they would allow me to be its first student.

While you were in dental school, you and your wife had the first of what would become six kids. What was it like going to dental school with a newborn?
It was really tough. I was liv- ing in Westlake Village and com- muting 40 miles very early in the morning and coming home very late at night. My wife and I had a deal where, once I got home, I’d be able to take my daughter out of the crib and rock her, even though it might wake her. It was hard to manage and balance all those things but well worth the effort.

Your work seems like it would be really rewarding. Which of your patients would you say rewarded you the most?
There are too many to count. I’ve had the privilege of treating a 22-year-old graduate student who now remains cancer-free almost eight years later. I’ve also had the privilege of treating an athletic di- rector at a college not far from here who was the winningest football coach in the history of the univer- sity. He continues to be a survivor and motivates his athletes. These patients and many others continue to make a difference in the world.

How do you look back on your years at USC?
For Brent Ward, in 1992, I don’t think there was a better place in the nation for me to be able to train. I’m sitting here in my home office, look- ing at my degree wall. The USC den- tal degree is in the center of sev- en other degree and certificates. There’s also my achievement wall, which has my McNulty Award, the Newkirk Award, the “Doctors Ought to Care” Program, Outstanding Graduate Recognition, American College of Dentists and OKU cer- tificates. Every one of them comes from USC. At the time they were given, they were to represent what I had given to USC. As I look back on them now and contemplate how my professional life has evolved, what those awards really represent is what USC gave to me.