Dental education is much more than teaching the art and science of dentistry to future promising doctors. Schools of dental medicine across the country staff a team of professionals who have a strong desire and commitment to graduate compassionate, ethical, and innovative health care leaders into the field of dentistry. But many curricular components are necessary to develop students into the competent, caring, lifelong learners they are meant to become. In addition, once these factors are put into place, administrators must determine the most effective methods of gathering the data and tracking institutional and program learning outcomes in order to prove their success.
A well-rounded dental student will perform well in all arms of the curriculum, including biomedical sciences, preclinical, service learning, and clinical. Faculty members ensure that students are engaged in their learning and that they are grasping concepts important to being a successful dentist. In addition to offering interactive learning platforms and hands-on learning experiences, schools of dentistry should provide their students with regularly updated reports of their performance. Longitudinal analysis reports can give students a snapshot of how they are performing in specific clinical disciplines, dentistry topics, biomedical science topics; and of course, institutional and program learning outcomes and objectives. Reports and feedback of this nature can display a student’s areas of strengths and weaknesses, which enable faculty members to intervene and re-emphasize key lessons the student may not understand. An analysis of learning outcomes performance also illustrates curricular concerns and successes. This, along with feedback from students and alumni through course evaluations, can lead into a starting point for improving courses and modules.
Aside from developing the clinical knowledge and skills throughout one’s dental program, students cultivate soft skills such as humanism, cultural sensitivity, communication, and collaboration. But how are these measured? Because these particular outcomes are not tangible, it can be challenging to assign a grade or score to these skills; although, it is not impossible. For example, students performing procedures at a community clinic or during a clinical rotation can be graded using a rubric outlined with the skills as dimensions. The faculty member can rate the student based on how he or she interacted with the patient, collaborated with the health care team, or exhibited cultural competence in the diagnosis or treatment. This is yet another means of enhancing the academic experience for the student.
After four rigorous years of demanding coursework and clinical practice, dental students are well equipped with the competence and ability to thrive in their profession. The dedication of faculty and staff to unceasingly improve curriculum and assessment features in order to deliver quality dental education results in an exodus of exceptional dentists.
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