News: Schulich Dentistry set to launch new oral health community outreach pilot project

By Jennifer Parraga, BA'93

Schulich Dentistry is preparing to launch a new experiential learning pilot project that will take fourth-year students off campus and into the community, particularly to work with equity-seeking groups.

Beginning this winter, a small group of students will be joining clinics to work alongside dentists. The pilot will be expanded in the summer of 2022 to include communities across southwestern Ontario and international locations, including Rwanda and Uganda.

Learnings from the pilot project will help create a new community engagement elective for all clinical dentistry students, replacing the former training students received through the Dental Outreach Community Service program.

“We created the pilot project because we want students to get more exposure to the real world of dentistry and overall health care,” said Dr. Abbas Jessani, Assistant Professor and Director of Dental Outreach and Community Engagement.

Dr. Abbas Jessani“There are many grey areas in practising dentistry, and by exposing our students to environments outside the university and our clinics, we are giving them the opportunity to gain new skills, become critical thinkers and understand new situations and challenges, how to react and adapt to different situations and scenarios while serving the community members who lack access to basic oral healthcare,” Jessani said.

In addition to enhancing their technical skills, students will have the opportunity to experience care in multi-faceted, person-centred clinics treating people from underserved communities. This will help students to understand the importance of developing community relationships, communication skills and risk-based patient-management skills, as well as learn more about the important role community clinics play.

“We want to support our students in developing a strong sense of social responsibility and help them to understand how crucial their role is as a healthcare provider; it’s imperative that they give back to the community that needs them the most,” Jessani said. 

Plans for the pilot project have been in the works since September 2020 and have been thwarted more than once because of the pandemic. Jessani believes they are now on track to launch in the coming weeks, and he is looking forward to seeing the collaborations come to life. He’s also grateful for the enthusiasm of the partners for the winter and summer pilots and to the Dean’s Office for their continued encouragement and support.

Meanwhile, Jessani is also developing a strong didactic component to the project that will be invaluable in preparing the students for their community placements. While it is still in the approval process, he says students will be required to undertake a training program and reflect on their experiences at the sites through reflection activities and narrative journals. 

“For this elective, we want students to change their mindset from marks and grades and focus on professional and personal development and growth,” he said.

Despite the challenges getting to this point, Jessani remains positive about the great potential of the pilot projects and future electives. 

“Community outreach will offer great opportunities for our students. While there is a long way for us to go with what we can do, we are taking the first step to make this critical aspect of our curriculum a reality,” he said.