Posted April 17, 2009

Kornberg's Fornatora inspires students to solve clinical puzzles

Great Teacher Award

Maria Fornatora’s students have told her numerous times that she should watch the Fox television show "House." But not because she emulates the crotchety lead character — quite the opposite. They want her to watch so they can have meaningful discussions of the episode and its mystery diagnoses.

“It makes me smile when I hear how much their education in oral pathology makes them really want to be diagnosticians,” she says.

And for the past 13 years, Fornatora, associate professor of oral maxillofacial pathology at the Kornberg School of Dentistry, has been instrumental in that education. Her students consistently praise her ability to make difficult material easy to follow, commend her availability, and complement her willingness to go the extra mile.

Maria Fornatora
Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University
Students of Maria Fornatora, associate professor of maxillofacial pathology, praise her ability to make difficult material easy to follow.


“I’m lucky to have been taught by such an educated and passionate individual,” said one of Fornatora’s fourth-year students. “Now I have confidence in my own skill and knowledge.”

Already a winner of the School of Dentistry Student Appreciation Award in 2004, Fornatora was again lauded by more than 70 of her students who signed a petition recommending her nomination for this year’s Great Teacher Award.

Of her teaching philosophy, Fornatora says that learning is a process and not an endpoint for both student and teacher.

“The best part of teaching is having the privilege to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for oral pathology with students and patients and having the opportunity to learn from them,” she said.

Fornatora came to Temple in 1996 after completing her residency in oral and maxillofacial pathology at The New York Hospital Medical Center in Queens and working full-time at a dental practice in Connecticut. Since then, she’s been active in all aspects of academic life: she is the current course director for advanced oral pathology, oral pathology and the admissions clinic; she is a member of the Curriculum Management Committee, the Quality Assurance Committee, and the Student Admissions Committee; and she served in the fall on the committee to select the new dean of the dental school.

She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, a diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology and a current member of the American Dental Education Association. She received her bachelor’s in biology from the State University of New York in Binghamton and her doctorate in dental medicine from the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine in 1992.

Despite the many hats she wears, Fornatora continues to focus her energy on education. She credits her enthusiasm and zeal for teaching to three of her mentors, Ellen Eisenberg at University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, and Paul Freedman and Stanley Kerpel at the New York Hospital Queens, all of whom she says had “great command of their discipline, modeled clinical excellence and were committed to fulfilling their responsibility to teach and inspire.”

“They taught me to love the specialty of oral pathology,” said Fornatora. “Each patient entrusts you with their diagnostic puzzle to solve. When you are fortunate enough to be able to solve their puzzle and help them manage their disease, there is nothing more rewarding.”

As an educator, Fornatora tries to pass along the excitement and rewarding feeling of solving that puzzle to her students, and thanks to her encouragement, they feel it too. They consistently say that she is approachable and always willing to answer any question, no matter how off-the-mark it may seem.

“Dr. Fornatora is an excellent instructor,” said one student. “She teaches her class in such a way that is directly related to patient treatment — at times, it feels like I’ve just treated a patient and we’re now talking about the case.”

Not unlike a certain television doctor.