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An Interview with Ricki Braswell
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): Throughout your career in the dental field, you have been a particularly strong and outspoken advocate for professional education. What factors in life or in the field or both have played into your strong advocacy?
Ricki Braswell (RB): I was raised in an environment where an educated mind was highly respected and deeply appreciated. This reverence for learning embedded in me the understanding that education frees the mind to explore the unknown, master the known, and nurtures the curiosity to always ask why.
For the 10 years I served the dental laboratory industry as Co-Executive Director of the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL), I gained an even greater appreciation for the need for higher learning. Clinicians often require dental technicians to perform at knowledge and skill levels well above what was taught in their two-year formal education program. When I canvassed the industry for higher learning opportunities specifically designed for dental technicians, I realized how few programs exist. That discovery solidified my strong belief that an industry that bears the responsibility for replicating the function, fit and esthetics of nature deserves a tremendous amount of respect and warrants educational opportunities that allow technicians to master their knowledge and skill sets
IDT: Why do you believe that it is important for professionals in the dental field to pursue a postgraduate education?
RB: Formal education merely provides graduates with the basic knowledge and skill sets needed to perform within a profession. It’s only after working in the field that dentists begin to understand and appreciate how much they didn’t learn in school. There is a huge gap and learning curve between being a professional and being a master in your chosen field. Postgraduate education is there to help professionals fill that gap and offer them the opportunity to gain the wisdom they need to deal with the myriad real life oral health situations they will encounter and the endlessly changing variables inherent in treating patients and finding the right professional solutions to restore their dentition.
IDT: What elements are essential for an optimal dental team-learning environment?
RB: Dentists and technicians must teach and learn together as a team. With a team setting comes the opportunity to discuss real world challenges, exchange ideas, and share experiences in a nonjudgmental, solution-oriented environment. The Pankey Institute utilizes this approach, allowing our course participants to learn from both our clinical and technical faculty as well as from each other in ways segregated classes would never achieve.
It is also imperative that the learning environment give dentists and laboratory technicians equal footing. Our educational organization places a high value on the knowledge and skill of dental technicians. We teach our clinical participants that best-practices dentistry can not be achieved without the aid of their laboratory partners and demonstrate the need for that equal partnership throughout their learning experience.
IDT: After completing a postgraduate course or series of courses, what is the best way for dental laboratory technicians to market their newly acquired education and expertise?
RB: I am a strong advocate of life-long learning. I do not believe that anyone is ever really finished with his or her education. That said, if one of our participants has just completed a course and achieved a new level of knowledge or wisdom, that information should be shared with clients. Technicians should inform them that they have invested in higher education, and be prepared to discuss how their new skills will help support the client’s efforts in achieving better dentistry in the practice.
Laboratory technicians can also inquire if their clients would like to join them in taking postgraduate courses. It is extremely satisfying to watch dentists and technicians come and learn together as a team. I have seen many working relationships blossom and thrive in this environment, as it allows our course participants to make connections with people who share the same value systems and desires to achieve similar professional goals.
IDT: Will the future call for a more educated dental technologist workforce?
RB: Absolutely. Because dental schools no longer teach the technical side of restorative dentistry, dentists will continue to rely heavily on their technician counterparts for professional advise and guidance in a variety of arenas including material selection, case planning, and particularly new technologies. The technician with a passion for advanced, postgraduate education will be viewed as an extremely effective and highly valued partner by the clinical community. As technology advances and is integrated into the clinical/technical workflow, this dynamic will become even more essential. The current challenge for the dental technology industry is the paucity of accredited programs, which may make it difficult for the industry to meet the demand for highly educated technicians in the future.
Ricki Braswell, is the President and CEO of The Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education in Key Biscayne, FL.