Q. Can you give us three examples of how the Peninsula Dental School differs from other dental schools?
A. The first major difference is that our students learn within the NHS primary dental care environment. Our students see exactly the same sort of patients as an NHS dentist. We believe that this is important because it gives our students hands-on clinical experience from the ground up – rather than through clinical challenges referred by hugely experienced clinicians. At Peninsula, we start with the simplest clinical cases and develop our students’ skills so that they gradually become adept at working with patients who have complex dental problems and who are difficult to treat. By the time they qualify, we believe our students will have realistic expectations of the challenges waiting for them in the real world. There are three aspects to patient care at the Peninsula Dental School – clinical; the psychological side of managing a patient; and the encouragement of patients to comply with recommended dental care.
The second major difference is that the course is four years in duration and requires graduate entry. All applicants need a science degree or equivalent healthcare professional qualification. Because our students are mature, we do not carry out a traditional interview but rather score applicants against a model of ‘what the perfect dentist looks like’. We select on key characteristics such as communication skills, professional attitude and social attitude, and these characteristics are scored using established recruitment methods. Our selection process seems to be successful – I have received positive feedback regarding our students from government ministers and the GDC down. The third difference is that our course is an enquiry-based programme. We are not taking knowledge and decanting it into the empty heads of the students. What we are doing is facilitating students’ access to that knowledge. It is a blended learning environment and suits our graduate-entry students.
Q. What has surprised you about the way the course has shaped up in its first year?
A. With my hand on my heart, I can say that our achievements to date are beyond my wildest hopes and dreams. We have recruited some fantastic members of staff who are
driven and enthusiastic – a huge achievement in itself, given the dearth of qualified senior clinical lecturers.
Q. When will the new Truro facility be open?
A. We are aiming for early 2010 but, in the meantime our students hone their clinical skills in a state-of-the-art simulated dental environment – the so-called ‘phantom head’ room – which includes levels of cross-infection control that would be expected in a dental surgery. This facility is based in Plymouth and is where our students spend the first six months of their study. They are then ready to practise, under supervision, on real NHS patients, currently at our Dental Education Clinic in Exeter. Each of our facilities – Exeter, Plymouth and Truro – will feature Dental Education Clinics which, when we are at full capacity, will see 512 NHS patients a day. My view is that skills are learned by ‘doing’. and as such our students have three and a half years of
treating real patients in a clinical environment before they graduate.
Q. Have any other institutions shown interest in following your vision?
A. We are attracting a lot of global attention. Two dental schools in Australia have
visited to look at our model, the world renowned Njmegen Dental School in Sweden has shown an interest, and I was invited to the Toronto University Dental Faculty to talk about how we deliver our programme. Their responses have been very encouraging.
Q. The Peninsula’s first dental students will be graduating in 2011. How easy will that transition be from the world of study to the workplace?
A. It is never an easy transition, but we will have prepared our students well so, for them, the transition should be smoother. We have tried to predict the issues that will affect dentistry in the next 25 years – such as an ageing population in possession of their own teeth – and we have designed our programme to include skills that will make our students fit for purpose.
Q. How can you ensure that the Peninsula dental students of today will be the South West dentists of tomorrow, bearing in mind the chronic lack of dental provision in the area?
A. The vast majority of our students have expressed a will to remain in the South West, and they have also expressed a commitment to NHS delivery. Many of our main clinical trainers are locally based general practitioners, and during their time at the Peninsula Dental School our students will be exposed to practise in the community. We hope that our experience will mirror that of our sister organisation, the Peninsula Medical School. This institution has so far graduated two cohorts, and in each around three-quarters chose to remain in Devon and Cornwall to continue their training.