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Conversation with Dr. Paul Allison: Thank you for a great deanship

I had the pleasure of hosting Dr, Paul Allison, current Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at McGill University. Dr. Allison’s term of deanship will end on June 30th of this year and we at CDA Oasis wanted to say Thank you to a great leader!

Dr. Allison is a dentist with professional training in the fields of oral surgery and dental public health as well as research training in the field of clinical epidemiology. Broadly, his research interests concern the psycho-social and behavioral aspects of oral health and oral health care. In particular, Dr. Allison is interested in the evaluation of various educational interventions, the development and validation of health-related quality of life and similar instruments, the use of these instruments to describe the oral health of various populations and to evaluate the effectiveness of various interventions, and the investigation of how psycho-social factors are involved in the etiology of oral health problems and how they affect patient prognosis. My current research projects concern issues of access to oral health care. 

I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did and you find it useful. Lots of good ideas are shared on how dental education can facilitate oral care for under-served populations. If you prefer to see the conversation in French, click here. 

We always welcome your feedback, suggestions, and questions and we hope to communicate with you on matters that are important to you and your profession. You can always and easily reach us at oasisdiscussions@cda-adc.ca

Until next time!

Chiraz Guessaier, CDA Oasis Manager

Highlights

How would you describe your deanship at McGill and what do you consider as the high moments?

My deanship has been an amazing experience in which I’ve learned quite a lot. I’ve interacted with so many different people that I perhaps would not have interacted with and certainly in different ways than if I had not been dean; and I’ve learned so much from those people.”

As a service to the community; creating new services, creating new learning opportunities for dental students and residents, and engaging our researchers and our research graduate students in those activities. The idea being that we should be at the vanguard of these activities, the universities, the faculty should be the vanguard of change in the dental profession in a variety of ways, we should be trying to create and pilot new service delivery models. We should be putting our students and our residents into those services so that they’re learning about interacting with different groups and they’re learning about providing different forms of dental care in different settings with different groups of people; and so that they take on these messages and they become themselves the champions for creating new forms of service for different groups, particularly groups that are currently unable to access dental care.

McGill has shown a keen interest in research and McGill students have been awarded an increased number of awards this year, does that reflect your own interest and belief in oral health research?

My predecessor, Jim Lund did an amazing job of bringing in some really good researchers and initiating some great research programs. In this faculty, one research program comes to mind, which is in the field of pain research; and I was lucky enough to inherit that good work and hopefully I’ve built on that work and we continue to move forward in that area.

What is the future of dental education and what should dental schools focus on to prepare the next generation of Canadian dentists?

One of the biggest visible areas reflecting what we have been doing is moving into an entirely new clinical facility, which was a great challenge; but I also think a great success at the same time. Moving into the new clinical facility took the faculty into the 21st century. We’re now in a place where I think we can use these facilities to build on, to create new ways and new mechanisms and techniques for teaching and learning. For instance, we have a means to create videos for our undergraduate students and for continuing education where we can interactively feature live patient and live demonstrations whether that be with students or with professionals from the dental community. So, there are all sorts of opportunities for us moving forward, quite the accomplishment.

What are some of the challenges facing dental education today?

So, there are so many different things that are going on in our society that need to be considered There are issues around the health status of the population. There are interesting issues around healthcare, dental care delivery mechanisms to the overall population. And then, there are issues around the way we are interacting socially, the obvious examples being the electronic communications. Another area is lifelong learning. We’ve been talking about lifelong learning for many years, but I really think that we in universities in general and dental schools in particular, need to think about this are differently. In universities we tend to set up our learning in a very structured way. You’ve got an undergraduate degree, your bachelors and then you got a professional degree like a DDS or DMD, and then you’ve got your master’s and your PhD; and you got a few variants on that, but not very much. If we think about the future of the dental profession and of training dental professionals, I think we really need to think about integrating continuing education with the what’s going on a day-to-day basis in schools and thinking about creating new modules of learning to equip our professionals in the field and in the community.

Oasis Moment – Take Away Message (1.46″)

 

Full Conversation (9.39″)

 

 

One comment

  1. We are seeing some unpleasant changes in the dental profession, and I put at least some of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the universities. Operating a dental program is unequestionably an expensive proposition. Up until the latter part of the 80s, universities subsidized the cost such that tuition was affordable. Then, with the crush on funding that came as universities everywhere felt as governments struggled with high interest rates and tried to balance budgets, bean counters got more involved and realized these dental schools were expensive to run. Some dental schools were shuttered forever. And many took the attitude that they had to raise tuition to balance their books. So that’s what happened. Tuition that was $2000/yr in 1980 became $5000/yr in the late 80s, $15,000/yr in the late 90s and now $50,000 to $100,000 is not unheard of. Deans I have spoken to personally try to justify this by citing the student loan programs they have set up with banks, and by stating that “In what other profession can you graduate and instantly earn $200k/year?” (There is a huge disconnect with reality in that statement, but I’ll leave that topic for now).

    So now the cost is exorbitant. To make matters worse, programs are extended into the summer and students are forced into indentured servitude working in clinics for the profit of the school/university, with no time off to get a summer job to make $$$ to pay their tuition.

    This has created a number of problems. First off, it scares away very good candidates who cannot fathom the debt load and whose families lack the resources to support them. You end up with a completely different type of student right off the bat. And, it makes the students who DO have the resources or take the risk focus on MONEY. If you’re a half million dollars in debt, your focus is not going to be on professionalism, but out of a sense of desperation, it’s going to be on making money so that you can pay off that debt. Or, you went into dentistry not out of sense of interest in the profession, but seeing a business opportunity.

    The net result is that access to a dental education to all is severely restricted so only a certain segment of the population even enters it. And we are creating a generation of self-interested business people, not a generation of dental professionals. Their interest in continuing education, expanding their knowledge, their sense of community with other colleagues is compromised. It’s all about competition and making the next buck.

    Dean Allison laments the lack of academic dentists. The universities are at least part to blame. An associate professor position in dentistry gets you the same pay grade as a similar position in the English department. The universities have a huge disconnect with the fact that the different educational programs have different values in the real world and until they recognize otherwise it will be a problem. And for those that consider the academic track, it’s not about teaching students, it’s about your research. Publish or perish. That’s the design of the university system. So, you need grants. The grant process is a difficult, terrifying ordeal that consumes time and resources and can leave excellent people out in the cold with no means to carry on their research.

    Dental programs are largely broken IMHO. I think they will remain that way until governments and universities realize it is indeed an education that needs to be heavily subsidized. Until then we’re going to have to live with dentists that out of necessity have to focus on the almighty dollar too much, rather than the best interests of their patients.

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