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Lumen Autumn 2017 Issue
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Ethos of Milton Sims lives on

Dr Helen McLean

Dr Helen McLean
Under the guidance of Professor Milton Sims at the Adelaide Dental School, Dr Helen McLean became the high-calibre orthodontist that she always hoped to be.

Under the guidance of Professor Milton Sims at the Adelaide Dental School, alumna Dr Helen McLean became the high-calibre orthodontist that she always hoped to be. Now, with the help of her colleagues, she is repaying the gift of a world-class education by supporting the Milton Sims Visiting Professorship.

Dr Helen McLean set her sights on becoming an orthodontist at age 10 after a painful experience at the dentist.

“I have very vivid memories of walking out of the dentist’s surgery and saying to my mother: ‘When I grow up I’m going to be a dentist and I’m going to be very kind and caring, and all the children will come to me’,” says Helen.

Helen’s ambition has never wavered. Following the completion of a Bachelor of Dental Surgery at the University, she practiced dentistry for four years before returning for postgraduate studies in orthodontics under the guidance of the eminent Professor Milton Sims.

“Milton had lectured to us as undergrads and I guess what impressed me was his unwavering belief that near enough was never good enough. It was perfection or do it again, and perfection is in my nature,” she says.

“Therefore as frustrating as it might be, I knew if I studied under Milton Sims I would learn a lot, it would be evidence-based because he was a world-recognised researcher, and I’d learn that I had to be at the top of my field if I was going to be successful.”

Helen says that her life’s wisdom has come from the examples that Milton set.

“It was an ethos of excellence and hard work – he expected to see us seven days a week and if he didn’t see us on Sunday he would ask us Monday morning – ‘where were you yesterday?’
“It was an ethos of if you want to get there then you have got to work.”

Milton also had a strong philosophy of evidence and critical thinking, and he sought to instil these qualities in his postgraduates.

“He would say: ‘Helen, how could you do that if I took the manual away?

How can you move that tooth because you’re not getting the wires out of the cupboard today, you must find another way?’

“I’m absolutely blessed to have been taught by someone of that calibre.”

To share the benefits of her education, Helen has three private orthodontic practices, two in Adelaide and one in the Riverland, and treats public health care patients with severe orthodontic problems at the Adelaide Dental Clinic.

She also volunteers annually at a medical and dental clinic in remote Vietnam where she provides dental care to people of the Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province living close to the site of the Battle of Long Tan.

This is in addition to her role as Senior Clinical Lecturer in Orthodontics at the University.
“It’s an ethos of wanting to share knowledge and giving back, because still to this day I think I am incredibly fortunate to have studied dentistry at a school like the Adelaide Dental School.”

Visiting professorship helps inspire

The Milton Sims Visiting Professorship was established to bring an eminent overseas professor of orthodontics to Australia to enhance the learning of Adelaide Dental School postgraduates and practitioners in Australia.

Visiting professors teach and guide the research of postgraduates and present courses to general practitioners during their stay. They also take on the role of external examiner for our postgraduates in their final exams.

“If our graduates pass and pass well then they can hold their head high all around the world because they haven’t just been trained and examined in Australia by Australian specialists, they’ve also been taught and examined at international levels by world-class and highly regarded orthodontic professors from overseas,” says Dr Helen McLean.

The professorship was initiated by Professor Wayne Sampson, a senior lecturer in orthodontics at the University, who worked alongside Professor Sims in running the postgraduate program over many years.

He built the case for a professorship with Helen and three other colleagues – Dr Craig Dreyer, the current Professor of Orthodontics at Adelaide Dental School, Dr Simon Freezer and Dr Colin Twelftree. All five had been profoundly influenced by Professor Sims during their careers.

The inaugural professorship was in 2015 when the founding donors and the Dental Research and Education Fund (DREF) brought Professor Fraser McDonald, from Kings College, London, to the University.

“The feedback from Professor McDonald and our postgraduates was that they learnt so much, it was fantastic,” says Helen.

Last year the University hosted Dr Jay Bowman, from the University of Michigan, and will host Theodore Eliades from the University of Zurich in 2018 with the professorship now approved as a biennial initiative.

If you would like to find out more about the Milton Sims Visiting Professorship or get involved in supporting its perpetuity, contact

Milton Sims

Professor Milton Sims, AO, (1927-2006)
Professor Milton R. Sims, AO, (1927-2006)

Professor Milton Sims was an orthodontic pioneer who devoted his life to teaching, research and clinical service for the benefit of the University and the general community. He was Reader in Orthodontics at the University of Adelaide from 1963 – 1992 and introduced a postgraduate program at the University that led to the specialisation in orthodontics. Until his retirement in 1993, 45 students graduated from his program and went on to fulfil their professional obligations nationally and internationally.

As a disciple of the legendary PR Begg (1898-1983), Professor Sims championed the Begg treatment philosophy, particularly when he was in the United States in the early 1960s. He provided many lectures and courses of instruction that ensured the University of Adelaide was on the world stage.

Story by
Kelly Brown
Photo of Dr Helen McLean by Russell Millard


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