Faculty Feature: Steven Chussid
“I went to college thinking I was going to be a marine biologist,” recalls Steven Chussid, DDS. What he actually became was a leader in pediatric dentistry; at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (CDM), Chussid is an associate professor, the director of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry, and the chair of the Section of Growth and Development. He is an attending dentist at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York.
In college, Chussid changed his mind about marine biology and decided to take a year off. During that time, he explored other options and decided to study dentistry. “I had a wonderful family dentist my entire family went to, and a pediatrician I always admired. I think it was somehow that combination.”
After completing dental school at the State University of New York and a pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital, both in Buffalo, Chussid worked in private practice for a period. But his positive residency experience—the training and the camaraderie—stuck with him and drew him back to academia. He taught part time at New York University and then full time at Montefiore Medical Center, where he was the residency program director for nine years.
In 2001, Chussid joined the faculty at CDM as the director of the pediatric dental residency program, and he continued to accept and excel in new leadership roles. He took over as pediatric dentistry division director in 2002, and in 2011 he became chair of his section—CDM’s equivalent of a department—encompassing the pediatric dentistry and orthodontic divisions.
One of his biggest successes has been the Haven Pediatric Dentistry clinic, where most of CDM’s young patients and medically compromised patients are now treated. When Chussid came to Columbia, pediatric cases were seen in the Vanderbilt Clinic (VC) along with the dental school’s other on-campus practices for adult patients.
“We had the opportunity to move, and we took advantage of that. The Haven clinic is run very differently than our previous location in the VC clinics. It’s staffed differently, scheduled much like a private practice, and it’s easy access from the street. It’s been very productive and a wonderful location to provide outstanding patient care and education to our residents and dental students.”
Even though the number of operatories has stayed the same, the number of patient visits at the Haven location is now about double what it was in Vanderbilt, says Chussid. “There’s been a huge need in the community, so increasing access to care is really important.”
Much of Chussid’s own clinical work takes place in Children’s Hospital, where he collaborates with other pediatric specialists as part of the craniofacial team. In the hospital operating rooms, he and the pediatric dentistry residents regularly treat patients under general anesthesia—“young children with extensive dental needs as well as severely medically compromised patients that can only be safely treated in that environment.”
He has also participated in multiple global outreach trips, traveling to Tanzania, Burundi, and the Dominican Republic to provide emergency dental treatment and oral health education.
Since starting at Columbia two decades ago, Chussid has been highly involved with the pediatric dentistry residency program. He helped streamline it, consolidating what was initially two separate programs, and has worked closely over the years with the current residency program director Richard Yoon, DDS, as CDM’s program has risen in popularity nationally and become highly competitive. Chussid continues to take an active role in the residents’ education, supervising them in the dental clinics and the operating rooms, teaching didactic seminars, and mentoring them throughout.
When they start the program, he says, “I sit with first-year residents to give them a bit of my philosophy. It’s very important that the patient always comes first. Every child should be treated as if they were your child. You can never go wrong that way.” He urges trainees to be empathetic and to try to understand the circumstances of the patients and their families.
Yoon, who has been a witness to Chussid’s work these 20 years, describes him as “a friend of humility, kindness, and compassion” who takes “an Apollonian approach to stewarding a division, allowing our didactic and training program to mean much more than a craft or astounding technique, but rather a developing of a profound and touching quality that many people—faculty, staff, residents, students, and parent-child—respond to.”
Part of that approach is cultivating a genial yet professional atmosphere within the division. “When you work in that kind of environment,” Chussid says, “everyone’s happier and, during stressful situations, you get through it together.” The cohesive culture attracts residents and is a salient part of their experience years later, he’s learned.
He also infuses warmth and empathy into his work as a site visitor for the Commission on Dental Accreditation. A site visit is often a stressful situation for those managing the program under review. “I try to remember what it’s like on the other side and make it as pleasant as it can be. It’s nice being able to put people at ease and make it a positive experience for everyone.”
In his everyday leadership, Chussid models approachability and attentiveness by keeping an open-door policy and visiting the pediatric clinics at least once a day. “It’s important to be out in the trenches with people to truly understand what they’re going through.” Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic he has continued those daily visits and guided his colleagues, trainees, and staff in navigating the many changes needed to operate safely.
Chussid finds happiness in simple pleasures. He has been running for decades, which he finds time for in the early mornings. He enjoys time with his family, fishing, watching the birds at the feeders in his yard, and “a dog that I absolutely love.” He’s also a huge music fan—especially of the Allman Brothers Band, whom he’s seen in concert more than 25 times.
At work, joy springs from “just walking into the clinic and watching how well we treat kids” and from teaching and mentoring. “I take great satisfaction in watching both residents and students develop. And I love having former residents keep in touch. To see them doing great, having families of their own, being successful in practice and in life brings me great pride and joy, even if I had a small part.”