Great Scots

Sometimes criticism can be just what‘s needed to motivate people into making changes and improving themselves. That’s precisely what has happened at Glasgow dental school after its curriculum was criticised by the GDC for being too traditional a couple of years ago.

Like any self-respecting Scot, they took the comments on the chin and have come back fighting with a programme of study that has got everyone at the school very excited.

Peter Carrotte, a senior clinical teacher and supervisor of the first year undergraduate programme at the dental school, says: ‘I believe that if we were behind some schools before, then we are pushing ahead of them now and we’ve only just begun.

‘Obviously the GDC’s report upset some people but we were already in the process of developing a new programme before that visit and it made us more determined to make it the best one possible. We have been running it for a year now and the last report we had from the external examiner was very complimentary.’

The new programme is based on the belief that students should see the relevance of what they are being taught when they are being taught it. As a result, teaching now takes the form of a fully integrated programme. From the start, students now participate in a mix of practical and classroom study from the start.

Peter Carrotte links the school’s old approach to a quote by Raymond Stanley from Sheffield: ‘Stanley once said, “the only way to do the dental course is to do it and then do it again, because the second time around you understand why it was all relevant and why you needed to know it.” We have tried to stop students from feeling like that and integrate our curriculum so as they are learning they understand why it is relevant.’

Previously the first two years of study were spent learning about biomedical sciences and were then followed by three years of clinical teaching. However, undergraduates were failing to realise the importance of learning about biomedical sciences during their first few years of study.

Then when they entered the clinical phase of teaching, they’d kick themselves for not paying attention before. Peter said: ‘We have started clinical dentistry from year one and the whole course is now clinically related. We teach biomedical sciences as they are relevant to whatever they are doing, so they don’t learn the anatomy of the third molar region until they are actually learning to take the teeth out.’

He goes on to give examples of what clinical work first year students can expect to be doing. This includes learning to give to patients basic resuscitation, oral hygiene instruction, simple examination of patients and dental assisting. The aim is to ensure all first years are familiar with these processes by the end of year one and ready to hit the ground running when they begin the second year.

So far, the students have welcomed the changes and Peter reports that the student body is now more enthusiastic about the curriculum and eager to find out more.

‘The students are highly motivated and very demanding of us as teachers. The new curriculum is very centred around the students and they have a lot of self-directed learning to do. They are constantly coming to us for information, far more than the students who were doing the old curriculum ever did, which is great. They are much more involved in their own learning.’

Dr Vince Bissell has been the driving force behind the changes at Glasgow and is also very pleased with the new programme and the effect it has had on students. He said: ‘We seem to have hit upon a means of making the curriculum more student-centred. This involves the use of a portfolio that provides a framework for reflective learning and the use of self-assessed assignments, which involve an element of problem-based learning.

‘We are trying to inculcate in our students a facility for reflection, allowing them to identify and address their own learning needs. In this way we hope to provide the foundations for life-long learning.’

Part of the new curriculum is an expansion of the current limited outreach programme at the school. Like other dental schools, Glasgow is beginning to see the merits of outreach and is keen to develop it further in the future. They also have government and financial backing of Jim Rennie, a postgraduate dental dean and deputy chief executive of NHS Education for Scotland.

Peter said: ‘We are moving forward with outreach. Jim Rennie is putting millions of pounds into it and building outreach clinics all across the country. Our students will spend the majority of their final year in outreach as we feel it has so many benefits for students as they are exposed to real dentistry.

‘We are currently recruiting for the person who is going to coordinate it all, which is a crucial post. By having one overall person in charge of the programme who will set the standards, arrange training for trainers and ensure that the whole scheme is quality controlled, we will ensure that everybody is teaching and assessing the students in the same way.’

There has been an enormous amount of change at Glasgow and with the redevelopment of the dental school and outreach expansion planned for the next few years, more lies ahead.

These developments are a very positive thing for its students and the school is embarking upon them with a watchful eye on maintaining the friendliness and professionalism that Glasgow has always been known for. The future definitely looks bright for Glasgow dental school, and with the new curriculum in place, its students too.

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