Doerfler brought real-world expertise to teaching dental residents

Richard Doerfler, a practicing orthodontist whose teaching took students from anatomy to the business of practicing dentistry, died Sept. 18, 2019.

Doerfler earned his undergraduate degree from St. Vincent College in 1982 and graduated from Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine in 1986, where he was a teaching assistant. In addition, he received master’s degrees in anthropology and anatomy from Pitt, as well as a Master of Dental Science in Orthodontics degree from the dental school here.

He had orthodontic practices in Clearfield and State College, from which he travelled to the School of Dental Medicine beginning in 2001 to lend his expertise as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.

“The residents enjoyed working with him and appreciated what he had to offer them,” said department chair Joseph Petrone, “particularly because it was seasoned with a private practice (perspective). He was teaching them what made him successful.”

When Doerfler sold his practice several years ago, he increased his commitment to teaching at Pitt, adding anatomy classes to his repertoire. But he was particularly valued by the residents, Petrone said: “He definitely mentored residents in their transition to their careers in the private sector,” advising them on everything from contracts to partnering in a practice, which is a complicated business decision.

“His mentoring role for the residents in that transition to the real world was really important,” Petrone added.

Doerfler started an endowed fund, the Orthodontics Residency Fund, to provide support for Pitt dental school residents’ travel and research. He received the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award in 2019 for advanced education. 

He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Jane Gravatt Doerfler; his son, William Reed Doerfler; his daughter-in-law, Lindsey Saldin; and his daughter, Bethany Doerfler, as well as his mother, Barbara Doerfler, and siblings Linda (Joseph) Bartolacci, Judy (Angelo) Napoleone, James (Theresa) Doerfler, Mary (Thomas) Callaghan, and Bethany (Samuel Karow) Doerfler.

Memorial contributions are suggested to the Pitt Dental Medicine Orthodontics Residency Fund or to the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

— Marty Levine