Rotations Provide Valuable Educational Experience
Students report that rotations in community clinics and practices are a very valuable educational experience.1 Some of the more important knowledge and skills that students gain relate to managing patients and auxiliary staff and learning new approaches to diagnosing and treating oral conditions. Students also report gaining more confidence in their abilities, speed in completing procedures, and greater awareness and sensitivity to treating patients of diverse backgrounds.
Lasting Effect on Where to Practice, Who to Treat
The evidence of the long-term impact of community rotations is unclear. In part, this is because few studies have rigorously assessed the long-term relationship between lengthy community experiences and dentists’ practice location decisions or acceptance of underserved patients. Recent evidence from several dental schools indicates that a substantial number of students who have had rotations in Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) seek employment in FQHCs after graduation. This is a very promising development, since many FQHCs have difficulty recruiting dentists.
Sound Partnerships Are Nurtured
A critical component of effective community education programs is strong partnerships with directors of community health centers and private practitioners who participate in student rotations. Long-term partnerships may take many years and a great deal of work to operate successfully. The first principal of a good partnership is that the relationship must benefit both organizations. Benefit occurs at two levels:
- Objectives of the two organizations are compatible, and
- Negotiations of financial or administrative arrangements are “reasonable” from both organizations’ perspectives.
Another principal of a good partnership is that the essential terms of the partnership are specified on paper and incorporated into a legal document such as a formal contract or memorandum of understanding (MOU). Many available prototype MOUs cover the basic issues in most partnerships between dental schools and community clinics and practices.