March 6, 2014

Dental students join health sciences exercise

When UW medical student Jory Wasserburger served a rotation in a Wyoming family physician’s office last year, the doctor wondered about the high number of child patients with untreated tooth decay. So he asked Wasserburger to look into the problem and brainstorm some community strategies.

At South Campus Center, RIDE dental student Christian Okafor and pharmacy students Sandra Carroll (center) and Traci Mo discuss community pediatric oral health strategies.

At South Campus Center, RIDE dental student Christian Okafor and pharmacy students Sandra Carroll (center) and Traci Mo discuss community pediatric oral health strategies.

On Tuesday, Wasserburger got a little help – from more than 600 fellow UW health sciences students, including a contingent from the School of Dentistry.

The students, guided by more than 50 faculty members, met at six sites around campus in the fifth exercise of the new Foundations of Interprofessional Practice curriculum. The six-session, year-long series, which began last fall, gathers students for problem-solving exercises designed to improve health-care delivery through better collaboration among various disciplines. It reflects a growing UW emphasis  on interprofessional health sciences education (IPE), which began in the late 1990s.

Students break into small groups with representatives from the different health sciences schools: medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, public health and social work. They tackle a real-life health scenario and develop team-based approaches to patient care and public health.

“The goal is to give them the chance to work together,” said Sarah Shannon, associate professor of biobehavioral nursing and health systems at the School of Nursing, who led the two-hour session at South Campus Center.

“Yes, they learn content. Yes, they learn skills. But the most important thing is that they learn how to work as teams on important health problems.”

The School of Medicine, for example, has been integrating oral health into its curriculum, while the School of Dentistry’s RIDE program lets dental students spend their first year studying alongside dental hygiene students and medical students.

Dental student Nguyen Tung describes how fluoride varnish is applied as medical student Kaitlyn Mulhern listens.

Dental student Nguyen Tung describes how fluoride varnish is applied as medical student Kaitlyn Mulhern listens.

During Tuesday’s exercise, students analyzed the Wyoming scenario, then identified contributing factors. They devised community-based approaches to pediatric tooth decay and even learned how to apply fluoride varnish, a sticky but effective anti-cavity treatment.

Some of their strategies were  truly novel: “Fluoridate all the Coca-Cola,” one group suggested with tongue in cheek.  Other recommendations, however, were carefully thought out:

  • Add dental screenings to well-child exams by pediatricians.
  • Add oral health to general medical histories and charts.
  • Remove high-sugar snacks from school vending machines and enlist school nurses to apply fluoride varnish.
  • Put warning labels on milk and juice boxes about how those drinks can increase the risk of tooth decay.

During lively discussions in the individual groups, students applied their own experience to solving the problem. Nursing student Elizabeth Rodgers, who has helped teach good health habits at Boys and Girls Clubs, talked about effective ways to reach children with messages.

“Keep it short,” she told her group partners at South Campus Center. “Have fun. Play games. Make it as hands-on as possible. They like pictures, too.”

At a different table, physician assistant student Michael Fleming raised another problem:  “The problem with kids – you can educate them until you’re blue in the face, but then Mom goes to the grocery store and puts junk in the cart. What are you going to do?”

In another group, members peppered dental student Eric Nelson with questions, and he shared insights about everything from temporary crowns to proper brushing technique.

“After brushing, you want to avoid hot foods or food like chips that scrape off fluoride. You want the fluoride to sit on the teeth,” he said.

In addition to the group discussions, students also watched brief video presentations from Dean Joel Berg of the School of Dentistry and Noel Chrisman, professor of psychosocial and community health in the School of Nursing. Dr. Berg, who is past president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry,  discussed pediatric oral health, while Chrisman talked about successful community-based approaches in the Seattle area, including dental screenings for kindergartners.

The Foundations series is part of the UW’s Interprofessional Education Initiative: Vision for a Collaborative Future, a team-based approach to teaching and delivering health care, which began in 2012. The program seeks to advance the “triple aim” promoted by the non-profit Institute for Healthcare Improvement:

  • Improving the patient experience of care
  • Improving the health of populations
  • Reducing the cost of health care

The academic year’s final FIP exercise, in early spring, will tackle post-deployment care for veterans.

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