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The vision workshop for the IOOS study programmes really got its teeth into things

Everyone knows it is difficult to predict what will happen in the future and this is also the case in the field of dental and oral health. But nevertheless, this is what stakeholders from the entire dental and oral health sector attempted to do when they gathered for a workshop to contribute knowledge and input to the vision for the study programmes at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health.

Approximately seventy dental and oral health stakeholders from students to lecturers, researchers and representatives from among employers were invited to a workshop at Aarhus University’s Sandbjerg Estate conference centre on 4-5 October. The goal of the two intensive days was to get input towards developing a vision and a strategic basis for the study programmes at the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health (abbreviated as IOOS in Danish).

Vice-dean for education at Health, Charlotte Ringsted, and department head at IOOS, Siri Beier Jensen, asked the participants to look towards the future. The vision workshop was not about scheduling or detailed dental treatments. Its purpose was to discuss how to best educate, train and equip graduates to meet an unknown future which will probably entail far more high-tech equipment and treatments and greater decision-making competence within areas such as health promotion, treatment of diseases rehabilitation within the orofacial area as a whole – which also covers lifestyle factors, systemic diseases, medication usage, interaction with the whole person and overall quality of life.

Sharper profiles and interdisciplinary collaboration

The workshop alternated between group work and plenary discussions. There were many diverse wishes for tomorrow's dentists, dental surgery assistants, clinical dental technicians and laboratory dental technicians – and also for their study programmes. However, the participants did agree on the importance of sharper educational profiles and focus on core competences within each programme.

At the same time, there was also a strong desire for more interdisciplinary collaboration and synergy, and not least knowledge of each other's academic skills and competences. Not only within the field of odontology, but also in a broader sense with relevant medical specialities and other sectors of the healthcare sector in order to ensure coherent patient care, and so that the oral cavity is included as part of the whole person when discussing health and disease.

Should tasks change hands?

The considerations on core competences also gave rise to discussions about the 'blurring of tasks' and the LEON principle between the professional groups – i.e. that patients should be treated in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

The debate also revolved around ethics and how patient safety and professional responsibility could be guaranteed at the practitioners, not to mention how to ensure an overview of the whole picture of the patient if healthcare as a whole becomes more specialised and tasks are delegated to more professional groups.

The robots are coming

Digitisation and technological progress was also a recurrent topic in connection with the question of how graduates can be equipped to evaluate, use and navigate the hi-tech equipment which is becoming increasingly advanced and ever more widely used. And how to maintain quality and good workmanship when 'the robots are coming' and can take over more of the tasks which today require skilled human hands and functional understanding.

There were no easy answers to the complex questions, but the discussions pointed in the direction of the students not having to be experts within specific systems or equipment. Instead, they need to be able to ask questions and take a critical approach to technological developments – both at the clinics and in society in general.

The question of how the department’s study programmes can contribute to creating growth and knowledge in society was also discussed. This led to e.g. proposals to think bigger and for more collaboration with medical doctors and business and industry. Business and industry are very much driving the technological development, but the university has the research competences and the expertise to scrutinise the hi-tech equipment before it hits the market and ends up in the clinics being used on the patients. Such a model with research-based tests for manufacturers is practised at the university in Malmö. This in turn led to a discussion about ethics and how, as a profession and educational institution, it was possible to build a constructive collaboration with business and industry that could stimulate a desire to carry out research and an entrepreneurial spirit among the graduates as well as optimisation of treatment options.

Long list of wishes from the study programmes

The vision and the strategic basis must be overall and long-term guiding principles for the study programmes and not a checklist for their specific design. Nevertheless, the workshop also gives participants the opportunity to think in new and different ways about structural frameworks and to ignore academic regulations, legislation and things that are not possible now.

There were many ideas for more joint teaching and teamwork at an early stage in the courses of study, and for these to stretch across the department’s vocational education and training programmes, academy profession programmes, and professional Bachelor’s and Master's degree programmes. The opportunity for greater specialisation during the study programmes was a common theme for all the different programmes. Another question that was addressed was whether the outside world's understanding of the concept of 'dental degree programmes' is too narrow and limited to cover the field, which includes health, disease and function in both teeth, mucous membrane, salivary glands, the jaw, the temporomandibular joint, mastication muscles, and facial and oral cavity nerves.

Despite the many different wishes, the participants generally agreed that all the study programmes should be knowledge and research-based, and that they should all incorporate 'academia'. The world and the field are continuously developing, making it important for the students to be able to critically reflect on their own field and to be innovative when solving the tasks they face.

From workshop to final vision

All the input from the workshop was written down and collected so that the steering committee can formulate a first draft of a shared vision for the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health’s study programmes and a strategic basis for these programmes. The draft is expected to be ready at the end of 2017. The vision and the strategic basis will then be sent for consultation. Once the final vision is completed in the spring of 2018, the boards of studies will assess whether there is a need to alter or adapt the study programmes.

Further information

Vice-dean for Education Charlotte Ringsted
Aarhus University, Health
Mobile: (+45) 9350 8222
Email: charlotte.ringsted@au.dk