Dental and Pharmacy Students Collaborate at University of Otago

Dentistry Today

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For the first time, pharmacy and dentistry students at the University of Otago have collaborated within a clinic setting to improve their training and patient care, and the program’s organizers are calling it groundbreaking in professional education.

Ten third-year bachelor of pharmacy students paired up with 10 third-year bachelor of dental surgery students in October to ensure that patients presenting at the Dunedin Faculty of Dentistry had medication experts on hand during clinical consults.

Dental patients often take multiple medications, the school said, some of which can directly and indirectly impact oral health and dental care. The pharmacy students used their skills and knowledge to help identify and understand those patients’ medications.

The program’s faculty say that having pharmacy and dentistry students learn together in a clinical context is novel to the country and to the region as a whole.

“People don’t think of pharmacy and dentistry working together, but many patients over the age of 50 are on multiple medications,” said pharmacy education associate professor Kyle Wilby, BSP, PharmD, who supervises the program.

“Seeing patients with 10 to 15 different medications isn’t uncommon. Many patients also forget to mention some of their medications when being questioned,” said Wilby, who added that dental students aren’t expected to be pharmaceutical experts, but pharmacy students are.

The knowledge is important as some medications can increase gum growth, discolor teeth, or suppress the immune system, increasing the chance of infections, the school says.

“Conversely, the pharmacy students usually get very little exposure to oral health patients, and any chance to improve that is one we thought we should take,” said Wilby.

All work was done under supervision with a broad range of patients being seen, Wilby said.

“The dentistry student would do their history and physical exam. Then the pharmacy student would come in and perform a medications history,” Wilby said.

Students then discussed their findings together, helping and learning from each other.

“The pharmacy students learned first-hand the effect some conditions have on patients and how medications can affect that. And while pharmacy students have patient experience, that’s normally limited to a pharmacy or hospital setup. This was the first time they had been inside a dental setting,” Wilby said. 

Pharmacy student Jacob Dresser said the initiative was a great addition to his pharmacy training.

“I really enjoyed this experience because it was such a unique opportunity to learn. Being able to collaborate in a real-life setting provided me with new insights into the benefits of IPE (interprofessional education), which I’m sure other students will find if this were continued in future,” Dresser said.

The school found the program valuable enough to begin formulating plans to roll it out on a bigger level next year, Wilby said. 

“It surpassed expectations in terms of the learning experience it provided, and we think it would be worth pursuing the relationship between the two schools further,” said Wilby. 

“We want to have it be more longitudinal, perhaps running over a whole semester, so we can measure patient outcomes and see what happens as a result of the pharmacy students being there,” Wilby said.

Such experience may become more common in the future, with the possibility of pharmacists eventually working more closely with dentists, Wilby said.

“We’re seeing pharmacy students working in general practice clinics now and other places,” Wilby said, “so I think we’re identifying that this might be a future role for pharmacy.”

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