At Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM), Dr. Kanchan Ganda has created an innovative and beneficial program that teaches students not only to notice the signs of domestic abuse—and how to respond when they see these signs—but also to provide much-needed, sometimes even lifesaving, treatment to victims.
Dr. Kanchan Ganda |
The program had its beginnings in a disturbing incident. In 1991, Dr. Ganda had the unsettling experience of having one of the patients in the TUSDM clinic suddenly stop coming in for treatment. She had cautioned the woman that it was not safe for her to use her abusive husband’s insurance to pay for her treatment because
if she did, he would have access to her current address.
“We don’t know what happened to her,” Dr. Ganda says, adding, “This incident affected me tremendously, but it also made me realize that no matter what it took, I needed to get funding so this patient population wouldn’t have to compromise their safety by relying on third-party payers. I also
realized that it was urgent to start an educational program that would teach dental students about domestic violence, and empower them to feel good about the difference they could make by caring for these patients.”
Her response, in early 1992, was to create the didactic component of the TUSDM’s Dental Outreach to Survivors (DOTS) Program, in partnership with the domestic violence division of the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and the Boston-area Asian Task Force
Against Domestic Violence (ATASK).
During Years 1 and 2, predoctoral dental students attend mandatory lectures where they learn:
- To recognize the signs of domestic violence.
- To understand the role health care providers play when they encounter patients who are (or have been) victims of abuse.
- To communicate with such patients.
- To access available resources for those whose lives may be in imminent danger.
In Year 3, students participate in a required rotation during which they engage in interactive sessions that include not only watching video recordings of positive and negative patient interactions but also role-playing the do’s and don’ts of optimal patient communication and care. After undergoing this training,
students are randomly assigned domestic violence cases.
Dr. Ganda also applied for grants highlighting the urgent need for patients in this situation to be able to maintain their anonymity by having their medical records de-identified. Finally, in 2003, she and Dr. Gülsün Gül, then Assistant Professor of General
Dentistry at TUSDM, succeeded in securing a grant—from Delta Dental of Massachusetts—that allowed them to start the clinical component of the program.
When the grant funding came to an end in 2008, Dr. Ganda was determined not to let the clinical component die, and thanks to generous donations from alumni, supporters of other programs that assist underserved patient populations and proceeds from the sales of her textbook (Dentist’s
Guide to Medical Conditions, Medications & Complications), this critical part of the program has been able to continue.
“Today we are treating patient DV475,” she says.
The program engages an interprofessional roster of educators, including pediatricians with expertise in child abuse, social workers and domestic violence program directors. “Speakers from both BPHC and ATASK have been teaching in our program from the beginning
and continue to do so today,” Dr. Ganda says.
While the direct benefit to patients in the Boston area is clear, Dr. Ganda stresses that Tufts alumni are also putting their skills into practice, which benefits other communities as well.
“Many of them have written to me and said that when they encounter these patients in their practices, it is very easy for them to make their patients feel comfortable and to provide the kind of care they need,” she says. “They’ve also gone on to educate people in their own practices who have never had this kind
While not every student at Tufts is able to work directly with these patients, “We always encourage the students who are treating them to get their friends to assist so they can also gain experience in their care.” Supervising faculty also learn how
the clinic maintains anonymity for the patients, and they gain insight into special issues in treating patients who have suffered abuse. Practicing dentists enrolled in continuing education classes for certification in domestic and child abuse also benefit and help
spread knowledge about the importance of this issue.
Additionally, the program has generated research and provided opportunities for the students to be mentored. One of Dr. Ganda’s students is first author on an article recently published in
Dimensions of Dental Hygiene.
This year Dr. Ganda will be presenting the TUSDM program at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Dental Medicine, where faculty and administrators would like to embark on a similar effort.
“Many of these patients have come back to speak to the students in our program because they want to let them know what this program has done for them,” Dr. Ganda adds. “When I see them come back—hugging, smiling, on top of the world—that’s the best payback anyone can experience.”