New curriculum gives students bigger bite

Future dentists get grounding in patient's overall health

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

Drilling and filling is just the beginning for a new breed of dentists about halfway through their training in the Faculty of Dentistry.

The first class of 40 dental students to complete two years of the new integrated medical/dental undergraduate curriculum are now midway through their third year. Equipped with two years of learning in basic sciences, social issues and communication, the students are now tackling a revised clinical curriculum.

"Third-year students now have a better foundation in the medical management of oral diseases than they did with the former curriculum," says Joanne Walton, chair of the faculty's curriculum committee. "They're better equipped to look at the whole patient and dental problems in the context of overall health."

Joint seminars see third- and fourth-year students discussing real-life treatment plans or case analyses based on their work in UBC's Dental Clinic in a format similar to that used in the first two years of the curriculum.

The self-directed study which is part of the curriculum's first two years also continues.

"Dentistry techniques, equipment and dental science are changing so rapidly that we must teach students how to get in the habit of seeking new information for themselves," says Walton, an associate professor in the Dept. of Oral Health Sciences.

Third-year students and curriculum committee members Kris Pastro and Suzy Hupfau agree that the curriculum fosters active learning--being inquisitive and outspoken--rather than waiting to be told what to do.

"In the tutorials we learned to work together to solve a problem and this has created a co-operative approach in the clinic," says Hupfau. Spring semesters have been lengthened and the role of part-time clinical faculty who supervise students has been increased to allow students time to master technical procedures originally taught in first and second years.

In addition, students learn clinical techniques in a new phased approach that incorporates both real and simulated practice.

The curriculum committee has confirmed the content and is now setting the timetable for the fourth-year curriculum.