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Campus Spotlight: The Ohio State University

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Can a $1.5 million, five-year award to place students in community sites and recruit more minority students transform a dental education program? At The Ohio State University (OSU), the answer appears to be "Yes."

When OSU received one of ten Dental Pipeline grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2002, its College of Dentistry was sending students into the community for about 12 days a year. By 2007, OSU had identified enough community partners to allow its fourth-year students to spend 60 days each in community settings. Today, about 100 students visit 21 extramural sites each year as part of the OHIO Project. They treat geriatric patients and veterans and, thanks to a mobile clinic, travel to schools to care for uninsured and underinsured children.

Last year, students spent a full month in an underserved area of Ohio's Licking County, where more than half the students receive free or reduced-price lunches. Unlike typical mobile clinics, this one offers more than preventive care. The dental students develop treatment plans under the supervision of a pediatric dentist and stay long enough to complete the necessary treatment.

"It's one thing to tell students in class that access to dental care is the number-one unmet health need in Ohio," says Dr. Canise Y. Bean, Director of Community Education and Associate Professor at OSU College of Dentistry, "but it's so much more real to them after they have spent time in Licking County. They realize that if each dentist does his or her part, eventually lack of access will no longer be a problem for Ohio residents."

To accommodate the increase in community-based education (CBE), OSU moved all its fourth-year didactic courses to Fridays and made CBE a course in itself. Students concentrate on basic preventive and restorative procedures, extractions, and some endodontics.

Like many dental schools, OSU requires students to complete a specified number of procedures in order to graduate. Up to 30 restorations and root canal therapy completed from start to finish in CBE settings may be counted toward these graduation requirements.

"It works, but I think we could offer the students more," argues Dr. Bean. "We don't want them to feel that CBE is taking them away from the college clinics as they attempt to fulfill the requirements."

Not everyone on the faculty agrees. Some would prefer that campus faculty supervise most procedures, especially when it comes to dentures and partials, but a confluence of factors may ultimately shift the balance in favor of greater reliance on CBE to build and demonstrate student competency. In fall 2012, OSU will move from a quarter system to a semester system, creating an impetus for Dr. Bean and her colleagues to consider revising graduation requirements and the curriculum in general. The college must also address the aging of its 50 plus-year-old physical structure. As Dr. Bean sees it, CBE may soon play an important role in providing an alternative venue for educating OSU students while facilities are replaced or renovated.

Her conclusion? "It's a wonderful time for change."

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