Manchester School of Dentistry is proud to be different. It has made its mark in the world of dental education by being known as an innovator – a school that is prepared to try new things to get the very best from its students.
Indeed, it decided to introduce an outreach programme in 1974 when other schools hadn’t even considered it. It is only recently that others have started to follow suit after being persuaded of the merits of this kind of teaching system.
Manchester is one of a kind and has proved that this approach works. It is consistently rated as one of the best dental schools in the UK and was recently awarded maximum points in a government review, with special commendation for its student support, IT infrastructure and the use of problem-based learning.
‘We have been doing outreach training for over 25 years, so it isn’t a new concept to us,’ says Professor Iain Mackie, Director of Undergraduate Studies. ‘We started doing it with just children’s dentistry, then we added orthodontics, and now we include adult restorative dentistry as well.
‘The students visit health centres in year three and they provide primary dental care to the local population where the clinics are situated. It means that undergraduate students can treat ordinary people within their own community, which is a fantastic experience.’
The need for an outreach programme was borne from a number of reasons, Iain explains. First, the patients that were coming into the dental school were presenting with complex dental problems that qualified dentists couldn’t cope with. For students and clinical tutors alike, this presented a difficult situation, as students were not getting enough experience of typical dental problems.
Outreach was considered a good solution, as it enabled them to get general experience whilst providing treatment for the local community, and familiarising them with a practice environment. It has proved to be a hit with students, as it consistently scores top marks on end of year feedback forms.
‘It is fantastic, when you look at the feedback from the students, the outreach clinics always come out top. It feels more like real life, and it is a stepping-stone between the school – which is a very protected environment – and general practice, where they are actually going to be working. In a way it is what you would call a halfway house,’ says Iain.
The links with the community don’t stop there. There are also several other programmes that are active within the school to ensure that students forge links with potential patients. Students have taken part in events such as Colgate ‘Oral Health Month’. By talking to and teaching very young children about their teeth in school, third-year students have the opportunity to develop their communication skills and hone their dental health education techniques.
A key development at Manchester over the past five years has been the introduction of a BSc in oral health science. A three-year degree course, which enables students who graduate to go into dental hygiene, dental therapy or orthodontic therapy, it was a giant step in enabling hygienists and therapists to gain a degree qualification, and Manchester is only one of two schools that offer the programme in the UK.
September 2006 also represents a time of change for the city, as it is introducing the brand-new BDS Manchester Dental Programme. It has taken two years to plan, as Iain explains: ‘For us it is all about ensuring that the pre-clinical and clinical years are more integrated.
We want to break down the barriers and mix the theory and practical work right from day one. This means we are bringing forward clinical dentistry into the first year, and we are getting students to start seeing patients much earlier.
‘People say that the first two years have to be all theory, but we have found with our BSc students who are seeing patients in Year One, that it worked really well and they loved it.
‘We are running the theory alongside the clinical practice right through all the five years, so when you learn the theory you are also reinforcing it by doing the clinical practice.’
Another key aspect of the Manchester Dental Programme will be teamwork. In a profession where the emphasis is increasingly on your role within a wider team, the School has recognised its part in preparing students for this kind of working structure.
‘Teamwork is very important in The Manchester Dental Programme,’ says Iain. ‘We are going to give students practice by giving them the opportunity to work with different year groups and hygiene and therapy students. For example, you may have a first-year working with a final-year and a hygiene student.
In this example, the final-year student will be able to take on a leadership role within the team, which is what they should do when they go out into practice.
‘We feel that it is really important to develop these leadership skills to equip our students for life after dental school.’
There is certainly a sense of enthusiasm at Manchester School of Dentistry. After all the hard work and careful planning that is evident in The Manchester Dental Programme, everybody at the School is keen to get started and prove just how successful this programme can be. For a school like this, which likes to think outside the box, the possibilities are endless.