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UCSF Medical Students Learn Oral Health Skills from Dental Students

SAN FRANCISCO, California – First-year UCSF medical students are learning to include oral health in their traditional Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat (HEENT) examination from UCSF dental students. The new oral health module, screening exam and fluoride varnish application skills were taught by senior dental students as part of the core curriculum for the School of Medicine's Foundations of Patient Care course during October. Young children, older adults and those without dental insurance are more likely to see their physician than dentist, underlining the need for integrating oral health into patient-centered care.

Feedback from the medical students indicates an appreciation for this new module and the peer-to-peer teaching by dental students, including an evaluation comment stating, "This was a great module and wish we had more like it. It's also an example of a great interprofessional activity – a model for how to do others." Dr. Heather Nye, the course director for Foundations of Patient Care, remarked on the successful launch of the oral health module and skills session. "As the School of Medicine continues with the enormous task of updating its entire curriculum over the next two years, I anticipate amazing opportunities to create more longitudinal and complementary approaches to including oral health in the physical exam," she said.

The idea of including oral health in the medical curriculum began in 2014 with the grassroots efforts of Walid Hamud-Ahmed, a UCSF medical student, who sent out a short survey to his classmates to evaluate their knowledge of and interest in oral health. Compelling, positive responses from the survey led to dental student Jean Calvo and her mentor Dr. Susan Hyde working together to develop, implement and evaluate the new oral health curriculum.

Training and calibrating senior dental students to serve as preceptors for teaching the skills session not only promoted peer-to-peer learning, but also engaged future dental educators, as evidenced by feedback from one of the senior dental students who commented, "I had so much fun! I really enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the medical school's students and faculty. The students were eager to learn and had a lot of questions. I also really appreciated to opportunity to take on the role of preceptor, because I am interested in pursuing a career in academics."

This innovative interprofessional activity aligns with national guidelines released last year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, for expanding the oral health clinical competency of primary care clinicians. Faculty from UCSF's School of Nursing expressed interest in having students from their family nurse practitioner program join with the medical students when they learn about oral health again next year. Likewise, discussions are underway between leadership from the schools of dentistry and pharmacy for ways to incorporate interprofessional clinical training between the two schools.

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