Open wide – patients and their role in training dentists

Patients not only want to be involved in developing the communication skills of dental students, but their involvement makes a valuable contribution, according to research presented at this year’s British Society for Oral and Dental Research Annual Meeting in Cardiff.

The research has been carried out by Dr Cathy Coelho, a senior dental clinical lecturer at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.

While both the Department of Health and the National Institute for Health Research are committed to getting patients involved in improving clinical education, research and the delivery of services, there has been little research into the perceptions of patients who do get involved – especially when asked to give feedback on the communication skills of dental students.

This piece of research has addressed this gap and heightened the understanding of what patients are faced with when asked to become involved in clinical education.

Dr Coelho gathered data from patients being treated by dental students at the University’s four Dental Education Facilities. These are purpose-built dental surgeries where dental students treat NHS patients under the supervision of qualified dental professionals – thus developing their skills as competent dentists while at the same time addressing local oral health needs.

The data revealed that patients want to be involved in the education of dental students and see themselves as co-educators, with a role to enhance the teaching and learning experienced by students. The research highlighted the need for the careful handling of negative feedback, especially for lower year students, and for the power balance between patient and student to be monitored.

Said Dr Coelho: “This research has shown that patients have a valuable contribution to make to the development of dental students’ communication skills, and that they are willing to be involved in the feedback loop. As co-educators they can work together with us as tutors and the students themselves in the supportive environment of dental schools, to enhance these skills.”