USC University of Southern California

Never Stop Learning

dr khalifeh portrait
Mohammad Khalifeh MS ’16, Ostrow Clinical Instructor

Part-time faculty member and practicing dentist Mohammad Khalifeh is taking his career to the next level by pursuing an online master’s degree from the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

BY JAMIE WETHERBE MA ’04

By any measure, Mohammad Khalifeh is a success.

The 52-year-old dentist has run a Los Angeles practice for the past 25 years. He teaches some of the nation’s top dental students as a clinical instructor at the Ostrow School. And he’s a diplomate in the American Board of Oral Implantology/Implant Dentistry and a fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry.

But even with all these accolades and their corresponding letters—DABOI/ID, FAAID, FAGD—behind his name, the life-long learner is looking to add yet another: MS ’16.

Khalifeh recently enrolled in UCS’s master’s of science in orofacial pain and oral medicine program, which aims to bridge the gap between dentistry and medicine and allows dentists to prescribe medications and treat both the body and the brain.

USC’s Orofacial Pain and Oral Medicine, which enrolls 15 students from around the world each year, gives dentists a deeper understanding of the intricate above-the-neck anatomy and allows them to prescribe medications and treat both the body and the brain.

“It’s not just focusing on the teeth; it’s focusing on the source of the problem, rather than the area where the symptoms occur,” says Khalifeh, who has been a part-time USC faculty member since 1996. “It’s not only an interesting program, it’s a needed one. Patients don’t receive the right treatment because of lack of knowledge.”

Designed for practicing dentists to continue working full-time, the three-year, hybrid online degree consists of weekly, recorded one-hour video lectures, as well as weekly reading and testing.

“I spend a couple hours a day reading, taking quizzes, and listening to lectures while driving or making dinner,” Khalifeh says. “And I’m still keeping my commitments to my family and to my business since I don’t have to be at school.”

Each week, students and professors also meet “face-to-face” during an interactive videoconference to present current cases and share solutions.

“We see each other by sharing screens, and I can show pictures and my work,” says Khalifeh. “You learn from each other’s experiences.”

While much of the program is online to accommodate working schedules, students are required to attend USC for two weeks each academic year for comprehensive testing and training to recap what they’ve learned during the year.

“It’s boot camp. You could have 20 to 30 exams: oral, computer simulation, multiple choice,” says Khalifeh. “You also practice techniques on patients, faculty or other residents.”

In addition to the coursework, Khalifeh says he’s adjusting to being a student—something he hasn’t done for three decades.

“Many of these sciences and pharmacology were never taught to us since they’re new discoveries,” he says, adding that the knowledge has allowed him to “do much better for my patients.”

Khalifeh says he applies his training in his practice on a daily basis—sometimes working with a team of providers, including psychiatrists and behavioral and pain management specialists, to approach complex cases.

“Sometimes you have to dig deep and treat underlying conditions, and this program teaches you how to establish your own team to help the patient,” he says.

While Khalifeh has recommended the degree to his friends, he cautions that USC’s program isn’t for everyone.

“This is a serious program that requires a lot of hard work and preparation,” he says. “You have to love learning.”

Khalifeh adds, “It’s interesting; it’s unique; and it’s going to get more competitive with time as more dentists apply, so I’d rather start now.”

For more information about the online master’s programs, click here.