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David S. Precious

October 2013 Honorary Degree Recipient

Doctor of Laws (honoris causa)

“It’s so rewarding, it feels almost selfish.”

That’s the unexpected reason Dr. David S. Precious gives for his almost 20 years of performing free corrective surgery on children with cleft lip and palate in countries like Vietnam, Tunisia, Brazil and India. And it provides some insight into the character of the man whose colleague Dr. Chad Robertson describes as having brought more recognition to the Faculty of Dentistry at Dalhousie than any other individual.

Dr. Precious is an internationally recognized leader in the field of oral and maxillofacial surgery, in particular helping patients with congenital cleft lip and palate—treatable fissures or gaps in the mouth that occur in newborns during gestation. His association with Dalhousie stretches back to his student days, when he obtained his Doctor of Dental Surgery and his Master of Science here. He went on to teach at Dalhousie, eventually chairing the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Sciences before being appointed Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry in 2003, a position he held until 2008. As Dean Emeritus and professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, he continues his association with Dalhousie.

As a result of his stature as a world leader in his field, Dr. Precious has been asked to serve on the editorial boards of four major maxillofacial surgery scholarly journals. He has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and abstracts, 15 book chapters and eight books, and has delivered more than 250 international lectures and presentations at learned society meetings. Based on his research, surgical procedures have been developed that result in dramatic functional improvements for patients with cleft palate or dental facial deformities.

Dr. Precious is a precise surgeon. The success of his surgical outcomes at the IWK Health Centre and Capital Health here in Halifax have attracted visiting surgeons from Britain, France, Australia, Korea, Japan and the United States, all wanting to observe his technical abilities firsthand.

His technical skill and academic achievements are the result of a lifetime spent dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in his field. But his humanitarian activities began with a chance meeting at a cleft lip and palate conference in New York.

It was 1995 when Dr. Precious met Professor Nagato Natsume, director of the Japanese Cleft Palate Foundation. Professor Natsume invited Dr. Precious to join a delegation of surgeons going to Ben Tre, a remote but populous island in Vietnam, to operate on children with cleft lip and palate. When he returned to Dalhousie, Dr. Precious was so enthusiastic about the experience that he partnered with the Japanese foundation. Over the next two decades, Dr. Precious and his colleagues took part in delegations of surgeons to Japan, Vietnam, Tunisia and elsewhere to perform surgeries and train local doctors.

That training component is crucial, as Dr. Precious says his ultimate goal is to equip local surgeons with the skills so that his team is no longer required. And the learning isn’t one-way, he says, pointing out that local doctors do many things more efficiently and at less cost, so that his team learns from them as well.

Because of the international respect Dr. Precious has acquired for both his skill and his humanitarian efforts, he is an invited Fellow of the International College of Dentists, the American College of Dentistry and the Academy of Dentistry International. In 2005, he received an honorary fellowship in the Royal College of Surgeons in England, and in the same year, received the Henry Archer Award, the highest award for outstanding contributions to oral and maxillofacial surgery granted by the American College of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. In 2007, he was inducted into the Order of Canada. This spring, he was further recognized by the American College with the prestigious and infrequently bestowed Humanitarian Award, recognizing those who, as surgeons, have worked diligently to improve the lives of their fellow man.
Dr. Precious has excelled in his profession, inspired others and made significant humanitarian contributions around the world. For this, I ask you, Mr. Chancellor, in the name of Senate, to bestow upon Dr. David S. Precious the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.