North American dental students' perspectives about their clinical education.J Dent Educ. 2006 Apr; 70(4):361-77.JD
Many North American dental schools face the challenge of replacing the majority of their "boomer generation" clinical instructors over the next ten years as this cohort of faculty reaches retirement age. Developing a new cadre of clinical instructors poses a substantial faculty development challenge: what instructional techniques should be integrated into routine educational practice by the dental faculty of the future, and what aspects of the clinical learning environment should be addressed to improve the overall quality of the experience for patients, students, and the new cohort of instructors? To gain insight that might guide faculty development for new clinical instructors and enhance understanding of the learning environment in dental school clinics, this study addressed the following question: what are dental students' perceptions of their learning experiences in the clinical setting? The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of the clinical instruction from the perspectives of the actual "consumer" of dental education: the student. This consumers' perspective was provided by 655 junior, senior, and graduate dental students at twenty-one North American dental schools who completed the Clinical Education Instructional Quality Questionnaire (ClinEd IQ) in 2003-04. The ClinED IQ examines four components of students' clinical experiences: 1) clinical learning opportunities, 2) involvement in specific learning activities, 3) interaction with clinical instructors, and 4) personal perceptions about clinical education. With the exception of inconsistent feedback and instruction and lack of continuous contact with the same instructors, juniors, seniors, and graduate students rated their interaction with clinical instructors favorably (mean=4.76 on a 6.00 scale), but provided lower ratings for clinical learning opportunities (mean=4.26 on a 6.00 scale) due to concerns about the efficiency of the dental clinic environment and lack of opportunity to treat patients in a variety of clinical settings. Analysis of more than 1,000 written comments provided by these students indicated four areas of concern: 1) inconsistent and sometimes insensitive (patronizing, rude) feedback from faculty; 2) excessive amounts of noneducational "legwork" such as billing, patient scheduling, phone calling, completing paperwork, and performing other clinic operations tasks; 3) limited access to faculty because of insufficient numbers of instructors on the clinic floor or difficulty locating faculty when they were needed for coaching, work evaluation, and chart signatures; and 4) concerns about the strategies employed to meet procedural requirements that some students saw as ethically questionable. Junior, senior, and graduate dental students at twenty-one North American dental schools perceived that the strongest aspect of their clinical education was their relationship with the faculty, but also reported that the dental school clinic was often an inefficient learning environment that hindered their opportunity to develop clinical competency. Students also sensed that faculty shortages, a growing crisis for dental education, hindered their progress in the clinic and made learning less efficient.