How well prepared to practice are newly qualified dental professionals including dentists, oral health therapists, dental therapists, dental hygienists, and dental prosthetists? The Australian Dental Council (ADC) commissioned and funded a study at the University of Melbourne to find out, and the study produced two outcomes.
The first outcome was theoretical, derived from a thorough literature review and stakeholders’ consultation, the university said. It also allowed for an expansion of the theoretically framework used to understand and conceptualize preparedness for practice in dentistry. The review outlined key additional dimensions to better understand the competencies expected of oral health professionals in the 21st century, the university added.
The second outcome was the Australia-wide assessment of preparedness for practice. The assessment was based on the self-perceptions and experiences of final-year students and new graduates, as well as the perspectives of clinical demonstrators, dental course coordinators, senior members of the professions, and employers. The opinions of consumers were sought as well.
Findings from this component indicated that dental students, at the time of graduation, were receiving adequate theoretical and evidence-based information, in addition to satisfactory clinical skills in their formal learning and teaching activities, which prepared them well to begin safe practice as newly graduated oral health practitioners.
Newly graduated oral health professionals were assesses as particularly well prepared in communication skills and in social and community orientation. They also were assessed as having an awareness of their scope of practice and initial limitations to practice, professional attitudes needed, the importance of continuing professional development, and ethical judgments.
These findings are encouraging, the university said, though it remains important to continuously improve and adapt dental curricula to meet contemporary challenges.
“Oral health professionals play an important role in addressing patients’ overall health and well-being and need the skills and experience to best support a multicultural patient base,” said professor Rodrigo Mariño of the Melbourne Dental School. “They also need to be prepared to support patients with some particular challenges.”
The assessment also identified areas where new graduates may benefit from further training and consolidation, as well as areas where more experience might be required.
Newly graduated oral health professionals, while well trained in general dentistry, may need additional clinical training and experience to prepare them for managing emergencies, both medical and dental, such as dental trauma, as well as challenging communication scenarios, like ones where patients are experiencing domestic abuse or neglect and patients living with disability, the university said.
Yet consistent with the literature, the university said, it was generally acknowledged that consolidating competencies in clinical practice is a lifelong learning process that can only be achieved through practical experience. Given that new graduates possess the basic level of preparedness for practice, the university said, it is reasonable to expect that their subsequent experience in general practice will allow for a rapid consolidation of professional skills.
“This was an Australian-wide study. Results indicate a consensus that training programs are producing graduates who have the required knowledge for safe dental practice. This appeared to be consistent, regardless of which institution graduates came from,” Mariño said.
As the accreditation authority for Australian dental professions, the ADC is responsible for the accreditation of dental education and training programs that precede registration. As the authority responsible for ensuring oral health programs provide students with the required professional competencies needed to register with the Dental Board of Australia, the ADC said it has a strong interest in the preparedness of graduates for practice upon graduation.
Dental schools and training institutions also share a fundamental concern with how well prepared their graduates are upon entry into the profession, the university said.
Mariño noted that the project supplies Australian data that can inform future review and development of accreditation standards, policies, and professional competencies for new practitioners.