Dental courses around the UK are changing. The last few years have seen schools develop different approaches to the way students are taught and this is becoming more obvious when you look at the way dental schools approach their curriculum.
It may only be a small tweak here or there, but it can have a significant effect on a student’s dental experience. GKT has long been an innovative dental school. Its curriculum and facilities have been adapted to keep up with the modern profession, ensuring that GKT graduates have the best possible start to their careers.
Mark Woolford, deputy director of undergraduate education, believes that the policy decisions they have taken over the last few years have been particularly beneficial to the current crop of students. The focus is squarely on preparing students for life in the real world.
In the past two years, the first year curriculum has been altered to include compulsory clinical environment sessions at the dental school at least once a week.
‘In the past, students traditionally did the first year in books and they didn’t go anywhere near the clinic,’ says Woolford. ‘We wanted to maintain their motivation by showing them that they are going to be dentists one day and giving them a taste of what is involved. When I trained I didn’t get near the dental school in my first year and so it took a while for me to feel like part of the community.
‘We wanted to integrate them into the school straight away and it has worked very well. It is probably the most well-received course in year one and students say that it makes them feel that they are moving towards an end point.’
Another aspect of this emphasis on getting new students involved in the dental school is the introduction of practical work in year two. Woolford says that this is part of a positive policy decision by GKT to instil a sense of purpose into students and give them a head start on clinical work.
‘We get our students onto clinics and treating patients at the beginning of year two in periodontology, and the middle of year two in operative dentistry,’ he said. ‘I think it benefits them because they appreciate far more quickly what is involved with treating patients and everything that goes with it. By building on that early, we have found they are much more ready to start year three. They move into doing more complicated things earlier and are generally able to learn more rapidly.’
One area where GKT is ahead of the game is implantology. It makes a point of including implant therapy into its third year prosthodontics course and believes that it was the first in the UK to do this. Woolford is quick to point out that this ‘crash course’ is not intended to qualify students to do implant work, but to at least prepares them for VT and a world where patients are more likely to ask for this kind of treatment.
‘The course is an introduction to implantology and it makes sure that this important aspect of dentistry is on the curriculum early and is not left until the end. Students find out how implants are put in and have the chance to restore one in the laboratory. Whether they can do them or not upon qualification doesn’t matter, but they do have to know about them so they can communicate with patients.’
GKT also chooses to position its elective period in the final year, rather than at the end of the fourth year like most dental schools. Woolford insists that the timing isn’t disruptive to students who are in the midst of a very demanding year and suggests that it is useful to those few who have fallen behind.
‘The main reason that we delay electives until the fifth year is that we want students to have a full grasp of everything before they go away so that they gain appropriately from everything that they see.
‘The other advantage of having it in year five is that if a student is beginning to fall behind, they can use that time to make up the shortfall. Those few students have the opportunity, when other students are away, to attend consultant clinics far more easily and regularly than they would if all of the students were there.’
GKT is certainly known for approaching things a little differently, but it seems to work for both staff and students. Fourth-year student Nighat Rasool says that GKT’s reputation for giving students vast clinical experience was what helped her decide to study in London. Since then, she is adamant that she has benefited from beginning clinics early and spending crucial time with patients.
‘The teaching at Guy’s is very clinically-based. We began clinics in the second year, which is a lot of responsibility, but I feel that most students really felt that they began to enjoy the course a lot more when they began clinics, as this was the reason they applied for dental school. I believe getting students adapted to clinics early is an essential part of learning and if it was possible to get first year students on clinics, even if only to nurse for the older years, that is something that I would have benefited from.’
Rasool is also full of praise for the implantology course and again feels that this has prepared her more fully for life beyond the dental school.
‘The implantology course was very interesting. It gave a brief insight into how implants are placed, and why and when they should be used. Although it wasn’t comprehensive, it formed a good basis on which to build on if you wanted to specialise. With dentistry advancing so quickly, implants may become more of a normal alternative to bridges or dentures, so it is important we are ready.’
It is clear that GKT’s focus is on ensuring its graduates are prepared, proficient and ready for life after dental school. By encouraging student participation from early on in the course and exposing them to up-to-date techniques and teaching methods, GKT is at the forefront of the UK’s dental schools and is likely to stay there for some time.