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The face of dentistry has changed over the past few decades. These changes have been pushed by advances in clinical dentistry, materials and technology, and pulled by demands from patients for better dental care.

Dentists, whether newly qualified or with many years of experience, need to keep up to date with appropriate use of new materials and techniques.

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) offers seven different part-time MSc courses, delivered over two or three years, to support and expand dental practice — and ensure that all students keep their focus on the patient.

How will studying for an MSc support dentists’ careers?

Dentists in NHS and private practices have similar needs, often driven by different forces. In the NHS, financial constraints have necessitated a review of the workforce that could lead to an increase in the number of dental therapists offering much of the treatment presently provided by dentists. Dentists’ roles are therefore likely to change, and they need to be able to adapt. Dentists working in the private sector often treat patients who have high expectations, often are more dentally aware and potentially more litigious. It is important that dentists have the clinical knowledge and skills to manage and meet patient expectations, particularly as private dentistry becomes more competitive. Postgraduate study will ensure that dentists can build their reputation on the quality of what they deliver, rather than on their marketing material.

What makes UCLan’s MSc offering different?

Our courses have a high staff to student ratio. We have one of the most modern phantom-head rooms in Europe, with 40 workstations and audio-visual technology. We also have an on-campus dental clinic, where postgraduate students treat patients who are appropriate to their course of study. Our undergraduate and postgraduate dental education and our training for dental specialists all follow a similar pattern. Clinical knowledge comes via lectures, seminars and case-based learning, whereas clinical skills are developed on phantom heads and in laboratories. Following this, trainees receive supervised clinical training: providing treatment for patients in a controlled and supportive environment. I believe that for all clinical training to be effective it must include treating patients under supervision. Confidence and competence are developed through repetition, feedback and reflection.

How have your courses evolved?

Following feedback from our students, we have changed the format of five of our seven masters’ degrees. Courses in Clinical Implantology, Endodontology, Clinical Periodontology, Prosthodontics and Oral Surgery are now two years part-time rather than three. We have been able to achieve this reduction by delivering much of the academic, non-clinical teaching online. This has a number of benefits: it means less travelling and it allows study at the student’s convenience — important factors as we have students from all over the UK. Most importantly, we have been able to add extra clinical days, increasing the number to 20 for most of the courses. Successful dentists need to have both competence and confidence, and these are best gained by carrying out procedures under direct supervision, supported by consultants and specialists.

What is the impact of the extra clinical days?

Extending the number of clinical days allows our students to practise their techniques, reflect on the outcomes, and then repeat the process. As one might expect, the two-year courses are demanding: more work and learning has to be compressed into a shorter timeframe. But more time treating patients and less time travelling is a big advantage. Our remaining two MScs, Advanced Restorative and Periodontal Practice and Dental Education, are taught courses and do not involve treating patients. Dental Education remains at three years, as it involves project work that will take time to complete. Advanced Restorative and Periodontal Practice, which is aimed at dental therapists and hygienists, is now also two years, with much of the academic delivery online.

What does the non-clinical teaching involve?

We have made a real effort to make sure that online delivery is as interactive and engaging as possible, rather than just downloading and reading course material. Our programmes equip practitioners to deliver evidence-based dentistry. They provide students with the skills to search databases for evidence, and then to critically appraise what they have found to decide whether it is appropriate to change their clinical practice — to offer their patients a new material or technique, for example.

What kind of students join the courses?

We see a mixture of applicants with a range of experience. We ask for a minimum of two years’ experience post-qualification, which gives practitioners time to hone their basic skills and to consider how they would like their careers to progress. Some of our applicants have been qualified for 20 years or more, and are looking for a new challenge or to re-ignite their enthusiasm for dentistry.One thing that all of our applicants have in common, however, is that they realise the benefit of supervised clinical training in postgraduate study.


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