Many clinical skills are taught to third and fourth year dental students while on the clinic floor during actual patient treatment. This occurs too late in dental education, and in too hectic an environment, to have a material impact on dental education.
Communication skills need much improvement. Active listening, and developing a patient’s social history, should be taught early in dental school. A hospital sociologist could ideally teach this.
Third and fourth year students generally lack basic diagnosis and treatment planning skills, and also lack adequate case presentation skills. Students know very little about the financial aspects of dentistry that would greatly assist them in achieving optimal case acceptance.
Schools generally want to avoid talking about patients fees with students yet don’t mind demanding timely tuition payments. Teaching students about money-issues in dentistry could help make them become more financially successful dentists who would then be in a better position to contribute back to their community through public service.
Improving dental school services to patients should be studied on the demand side, i.e. patients, rather that the supply side, i.e. more layers of school management watching the clinics. School management should chose ten dental patient “shoppers”, shills, who will anonymously visit the school for treatment and then write reports on their experiences. The Dean will learn that there is a huge gap between what people are seeking when going to a dental school versus the care they are receiving.
Some dental schools have too many dental students to be effective. An over-sized program requires too many faculty that can’t be effectively standardized and too many inappropriate patients. This can create a huge financial burden on a school. Some students should rotate their clinic time through the front desk operations normally handled by full-time staff. This will ease the workload on overworked staff, without increasing payroll, while teaching students valuable business skills.
Four random, comparable groups of ten students can be picked from the entering first year dental school class. One of these groups can be randomly selected as the test group and the other groups can serve as controls. The test group should be educated in a manner as described above, including exposure to a faculty private practice that involves extra work hours each week. These control students can be randomly assigned different clinics during their third and fourth years. Objective measures of their learning can then be measured. Over time this study could help refine the educational process of the entire dental school.