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October 2021
Volume 42, Issue 9

Harvard–Tufts Dental Education Collaborative: Stronger Together

Shibani Sahni, BDS, MMSc; and Irina F. Dragan, DDS, MS

The authors, with Dr. Sahni representing Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) and Dr. Dragan from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM), have joined together in a collaborative effort to examine differences and similarities in their respective dental education residency programs. This cooperative work is aimed at exchanging views on various topics related to dental training and amplifying dental education by providing enrichment opportunities to participants in each of the programs. Its primary purpose is to promote improvement in dental education and foster the professional development of leaders in academic dentistry by a novel method of collaboration through a shared model of teaching and learning.

The partnership, which was brought about largely by the COVID-19 pandemic, looks to embody collaborative principles, avoiding duplication and focusing on the common goal of quality dental education. The process encompasses issues such as trust, diversity, conflict, and shared power and is intended to contribute to best practices in teaching and learning. The authors believe that collaboration will play an important role in the future of dental education and academic advancement.1


Integrating best practices in online education (eg, focused content, the fostering of collaboration, clear communication), the partnership began conducting monthly meetings this past summer and is continuing into the fall. Experienced dental educators from HSDM and TUSDM facilitate sessions for the participants to discuss advanced topics, review literature, and, in effect, build their critical thinking capabilities. This is done while simultaneously maintaining common goals for the benefit of both organizations. Learning experiences through small working group discussions where participants help each other are encouraged. The content is managed by prompts and learning activities rather than lecturing.2 Focus groups are on-hand to offer recommendations for improvement with regard to any unexpected short- or long-term outcomes.

The HSDM and TUSDM facilitators are examining both the barriers encountered and the accomplishments. Eventually, the collaborative initiative will be analyzed by thematic synthesis methods with descriptive themes.

Preliminary Results

The first collaborative meeting in July was well received as participants from both programs gathered along with guest faculty members from the two institutions. An article highlighting the roles of healthcare educators in 2025 was discussed.3 Using audience response technology, participants were able to share perceptions on the future of dental education. According to the participants of the meeting, successful educators will be those who are able to assess individual and group performances and personalize their teaching based on identified gaps.4 It was envisioned that dental educators will have to be excellent clinicians with superb communication skills and be able to adopt technology early on. It was also anticipated that knowledge and skills will be shared among team members, and dynamics like respect and diversity will play major roles in the synergy and learning.

The HSDM-TUSDM collaboration supports the evolution of dental education by providing tools for educators to encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and the decision-making process. The hope is that many of the challenges the dental education field encountered during the pandemic will be adapted as opportunities to improve the educational model in US dental academic institutions.

Significance and Future Direction

This collaborative is a unique outreach program bringing together faculty members, administrators, postdoctoral dental students, and clinicians who are interested in academia as a career path and wish to be leaders in dental education. By increasing the visibility of their dental education programs, HSDM and TUSDM expect to increase the number of faculty members in the United States and possibly across the globe who will consider receiving formal training in the scholarship of teaching and learning.5

A national shortage of dental faculty currently exists in the United States, and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) has spearheaded significant efforts aimed at inspiring the next generation of dental educators (eg, Academic Dental Career Fellowship Program). Through partnerships among academic institutions, the efforts of ADEA are continued from the national level to regional levels. Such partnering will be an important asset to the discipline of dentistry and dental education in this nation, helping the field move from isolation toward collaboration, as some challenges encountered are more regionally based. Collaboration has played and will continue to play an important role in dental education.

About the Authors

Shibani Sahni, BDS, MMSc
Faculty, MMSc Dental Education, Director of Diagnosis and Treatment Planning course in Predoctoral DMD Program, and Faculty Lead in Scholars in Dental Education, Harvard School of Dental Medicine,
Boston, Massachusetts

Irina F. Dragan, DDS, MS
Former Associate Professor and Director, Faculty Education and Instructional Development,
Department of Periodontology, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts


1. Saeed SG, Bain J, Khoo E, Siqueira WL. COVID-19: finding silver linings for dental education. J Dent Educ. 2020;84(10):1060-1063.

2. Kleffner JH, Dadian T. Using collaborative learning in dental education. J Dent Educ. 1997;61(1):66-72.

3. Simpson D, Marcdante K, Souza KH, et al. Job roles of the 2025 medical educator. J Grad Med Educ. 2018;10(3):243-246.

4. Coates WC, Love JN, Santen SA, et al. Faculty development in medical education research: a cooperative model. Acad Med. 2010;85(5):829-836.

5. Johnston C, Ganas J, Jeong YN, et al. Faculty development initiatives in academic dentistry: a systematic review. J Dent Educ. 2019;83(9):1107-1117.

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