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Canadian Dental Schools Issues & People

Problems and Solutions for Interprofessional Education in North American Dental Schools

Dr. Sara Gordon, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington, spoke with Dr. Chiraz Guessaier about a recent article she co-authored with Dr Bruce Donoff and which was published in Dental Clinics of North America, titled: Problems and Solutions for Interprofessional Education in North American Dental Schools.


Dentistry should be included in interprofessional care as it is integral to overall health. Dentists are team players in optimizing health and as such, should be able to collaborate and communicate comfortably with other health care professionals. Interprofessional education (IPE) plays an important role in the health and safety of patients.

How can schools make clinical requirements for IPE more flexible and relevant to dental education?

IPE education is often hospital-based which usually precludes most dental students. As an alternative, students may be given the opportunity to experience and participate in IPE in other settings. Students from the University of Toronto, as an example, have been placed in 9-1-1 call centres, dental laboratories and participated in team meetings with nurses along with patients and their families to gain relevant experience outside the traditional hospital setting. In this way, students were able to accommodate the IPE with their own schedules.

How do we get dental students to learn to collaborate and be team players?

Oral and overall health can only be optimized if dental and medical professionals transcend their respective silos. At NYU, medical, nurse practitioner and dental students worked in teams to examine and diagnose a standardized “patient actor” with simulated issues. The team formulated a joint problem list, discussed findings and taught one another about their own disciplines.

How do schools overcome institutional barriers in implementing the IPE approach?

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has a grassroots movement for IPE, including faculty, staff, and student that resulted in the establishment of the IPE Center of Excellence, funded by the Provost’s office. Administration now views IPE as important and includes it in the strategic planning process. Schools must be committed to organizing IPE activities across the health profession disciplines. Funding can be challenging; however, it can be overcome by having each professional discipline allocate a certain amount to IPE or for a school to create a central fund for IPE.

How do schools overcome discipline-specific barriers?

Meharry Medical College found that health sciences students often learn in isolation from others and do not necessarily understand one another’s core disciplines. To overcome this, interdisciplinary teams of health sciences students teamed with community partners that worked with patients that have limited finances or complex medical issues. In this way, they learned about cultural competency and jointly developed sustainable solutions to help the community partner.

How do schools overcome attitudinal barriers?

Western University of Health Sciences (California) found that health sciences students did not have shared values and were time-starved. Case studies were developed that simulated real situations and this knowledge was, then, applied in real care by working in actual working teams of dental and physician students.

How do we integrate oral health into IPE and IPE practice teams?

The University of Alabama asked medical, nursing, dental, optometry and physician assistant student teams to complete a “Smiles for Life” curriculum. The interprofessional teams jointly examine children at monthly community screenings. They decide whether referrals are indicated and where they will refer. The students also  teach one another about their respective disciplines.

How is competency assessed?

This is a new requirement by accreditation agencies. University of Washington found that pre-existing assessment tools can often be tweaked for use in assessing IPE competence. IPE competency assessment can often be incorporated into other clinical competency assessments to triangulate these skills. Effective communication, overall, is an important aspect of competency.

IPE may be incorrectly viewed as a fad; however, it is truly an important part of our armamentarium since dentists are leaders of a health team and oral health is an essential component of overall health. This also impacts patient health and safety if information is not appropriately communicated and coordinated across health disciplines.




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