The 2017 Strategic Plan is entitled “Transforming the Future of Oral Health Education,” and the school’s vision statement reads “improving health and wellness through innovation in programs, partnerships, and people.” The Pacific Helix Curriculum, a unique curricular model that integrates content across disciplines and years-in-program and emphasizes active learning and the development of critical thinking, aligns nicely with both the Strategic Plan and the vision statement, and reinforces the school’s commitment to innovation and leadership in dental education.
Hallmarks of the Helix model are active classrooms, small group case-based learning, and the prudent use of technology to extend learning beyond the traditional classroom. To support and advance the new model, the school has increased the number of full-time faculty, focusing specifically on recruiting educators who fit the model, and provides ongoing expert training in principles of 21st century pedagogy and Web 2.0 tools. A full-time doctorally trained faculty developer/instructional designer is on staff to guide faculty in considering innovations to existing courses or to assist in the design of new ones.
Foundational knowledge in the sciences are integrated with patient care and interpersonal skills across all years of the program. The first-year ICS course, "Orientation to the Clinical Practice of General Dentistry," covers how to address patients, collect information, and prepare to treat them. Students learn through lectures, seminars, and clinical and case-based exercises about key topics such as diagnostic sciences, communication skills, patient management, ethics, and clinic systems. In the second-year course, learning shifts to treatment planning and delivery of care, while reinforcing the foundational sciences and communication skills. Faculty are from a broad spectrum of basic science, clinical departments, and practice backgrounds. Students focus on clinical dentistry as a whole rather than as individual disciplines. Students think beyond the "ideal" skills and protocols of first year to the application of skills to real patients in clinic. The third-year course covers themes involving all aspects of clinical dentistry—technical, scientific, and human interaction. Students participate in small group seminars and give formal presentations to faculty and each other to demonstrate an understanding of evidence-based treatment and patient care.
The IPT strand is designed to go beyond the strengths of our existing clinical preparation and to leverage opportunities to develop broad skill sets, including patient communication, that are necessary for the successful practice of dentistry. This strand includes advances in contemporary dental techniques and technologies now widely used in private practice, such as digital impressions and radiographs. Learning begins with a mastery of foundational concepts and terminology, then moving to an interdisciplinary thinking model, and culminates in increasingly complex patient cases simulating the clinical experience. Authentic learning and safe guided practice is the heart of the IPT strand.
The IMS strand is undergoing a significant revision to align its content more closely with the school’s new competency statements and Strategic Plan, while preparing students thoroughly for the integrated national board exam that will launch in 2020. The redesigned strand retains some of the traditional content, but introduces and integrates new areas that future practitioners will need to succeed: medicine, geriatrics, epidemiology, statistics, research methodology, and social determinants of health and wellness. The biomedical science faculty and their dentist peers are creating a strand that provides a strong foundation in medical sciences and explicitly connects this knowledge to oral health and patient care.
The student's clinical group practice is the central organizing unit of the clinical experience. Composed of an equal number of first-, second-, and third-year dental students, as well as advanced standing students from the International Dental Studies program, clinic teams enable an experience of modern comprehensive patient care that students will encounter in private practice.
This strand gives students the opportunity to customize learning. Guided by their own interest and curiosity, the student develops a unique pathway to experiences in a field or area related to dentistry that is not available in the core curriculum. All PIPs require documented foundational knowledge, an experiential learning piece, and a work product. Many PIPs also include a cumulative reflective essay in which the student analyzes the value of the project and the resulting personal growth. All students work with an expert in the field of interest, but the mentor serves only in an adjunctive, advisory role; the student develops the idea and drives the project. Topics span a range of ideas, from the epidemiology of oral disease in the Caribbean to developing a peer technique lab project, from research in dental education to more traditional bench and applied research of the health professions.