Dental Education During COVID-19
Howard Strassler, DMD and Nisha GANESH, DDS, MAEd
During the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, there has been a significant disruption of education. Many in the media have suggested that this disruption will in all likelihood lead to a deficit in educational experiences and overall learning for the affected students. Children, adolescents, and adult learners alike have been thrust into remote, more self-driven learning environments. For schools that are traditionally brick-and-mortar, face-to-face programs, each week brings new challenges for the teachers and administrators. At some universities, remote online learning was already a part of their DNA, but for most schools, this was not the case.
Regarding the interruption of dental education, the challenges have been more significant and multifactorial. Dental education is comprised of an integrated curriculum that includes the teaching of psychomotor skills that are tied to diagnosis and treatment outcomes. Unfortunately, the shift to remote learning eliminated access to this key element in the training of oral healthcare professionals. For the students who weren't in their gradation year, the interruption in traditional teaching created an opportunity to pursue additional resources through a robust online remote education program in order to maintain their continuity of learning; however, a sense of urgency quickly grew among the class of 2020.
At the time of the interruption, the class of 2020 had approximately 2 months remaining in their education. Graduation was looming, and the students' goals of beginning residencies or going into private practice were in jeopardy. All dental schools were waiting with bated breath for the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) to announce what changes could be put in place as alternative educational experiences to meet graduation requirements. At the University of Maryland, our COVID-19 task group's primary focus was to develop alternatives so that the students could meet the accreditation requirements and graduate on time. On April 14, 2020, CODA released its Additional Post-CODA Meeting Guidance on Interruption of Education Related to COVID-19 for the Class of 2020, which established discipline-specific "temporary flexibility" for programs to create alternative assessment methods.
Before you think that the class of 2020 got a free pass to graduate because there were only 2 months remaining, think again. The CODA guidance categorically states that "the Commission reminds each educational program that it has an obligation and responsibility to ensure that its graduates of the Class of 2020 are competent and that the program complies with CODA's Accreditation Standards." Furthermore, the document emphasizes that programs should "ensure that the overall program objectives, course and program requirements, and program competencies are fully satisfied" when determining eligibility to graduate.
Dental schools have risen to the task of fulfilling the CODA guidance. Clinical education is traditionally accomplished only in the clinic with a student providing direct patient care under the supervision of a faculty member; however, clinical education is complex, and the knowledge and skills required can be taught and assessed using several valid and reliable modalities. Grades and achievements in dental school are not the absolute measure of how an oral healthcare provider is certified. Dental students have 3 years and 9 months for their education, so missing 2 months may not be so critical. Also, for those of us who graduated dental school 15, 20, 30, or even more than 40 years ago, consider all of the clinical services that we provide that we did not learn in dental school-digital radiography, CAD/CAM, complicated surgical and endodontic procedures, implants, porcelain veneers, light curing, and many others. The idea that 50% of what we do has changed in the last 5 years has been heard in many continuing education courses.
Verily, the skills and values that the class of 2020 developed during their educational experiences have prepared them to be self-directed lifelong learners, problem solvers, and independent thinkers, and they are ready to join us in providing high-quality dental treatment.
About the Authors
Howard Strassler, DMD, is a professor in the Department of General Dentistry and a member of the COVID-19 Academic Task Group at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland.
Nisha Ganesh, DDS, MAEd, is an assistant professor and the director of predoctoral education in general dentistry in the Department of General Dentistry and a member of the COVID-19 Academic Task Group at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland.