ATSU Dental Students Learn from and Teach Their Med Student Peers

Dentistry Today


HealthPoint, a community health center in Seattle, has been hosting medical and dental students from AT Still University (ATSU) in Arizona as they learn from each other in a unique interprofessional educational model.

“The students are very inspirational,” said Ruth Michaelis, MD, a clinical assistant professor at ATSU School of Dentistry and Oral Health (ATSU-ASDOH) who coordinates the program. “They bring a lot of gifts. Our organization is very supportive of them and really tries to maximize their experience here.”

ATSU School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA) students in the medical clinic are paired with an ATSU-ASDOH dental student. The dental students teach the medical students how to perform oral screenings and apply a fluoride varnish. The medical students teach the dental students how to take a patient history and perform a physical exam.

“There’s so much interprofessional support at HealthPoint,” said Michaelis. “When you embed students in this very interprofessional environment, you don’t have to work very hard to create interprofessional education. They’re surrounded by it.”

ATSU calls the experience a win-win, as students benefit from interprofessional learning opportunities, while patients appreciate the thorough examination.

“The students really enjoy learning from each other,” Michaelis said. “They are happy to learn about the link between medical and dental health. When most medical students take exams, they just skip the mouth. Our students put on gloves and start doing the oral screening.” 

Patient feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, the school reports. 

“It has been really fun to read the patient comments,” said Michaelis. “Many of them haven’t been able to afford a trip to the dentist in a long time. Now they know what they need to do and where to go to maintain their oral health.” 

A recent change may have significant benefits for patients, too. Although the team had been referring many medical patients to the medical clinic, most patients weren’t following up to make an appointment. Now, after the collaborative medical exam, the students will escort patients to HealthPoint’s dental clinic to schedule an appointment on the spot.

Michaelis hopes the spirit of interprofessional collaboration will inspire an integrated approach to care at HealthPoint, which shares ATSU’s mission to serve the underserved, involving healthcare providers as well as students.

“Our grant ended a year or two ago, but no one wanted to stop doing the work,” Michaelis said. “The program has exceeded our wildest expectations.”

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