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Pacific Dental Helix Curriculum

The Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry's mission states that we will prepare oral healthcare providers for scientifically based practice and define new standards for education. To that end, we have implemented the Pacific Dental Helix Curriculum, which places a strong focus on active learning and critical thinking by integrating across multiple disciplinary areas and using small-group case-based learning as a signature pedagogy.

As we made these exciting changes to make our school even more learner-centered, we also need to ensure that our faculty members are prepared to thrive and excel in a changing environment. We have increased the number of full-time faculty, and focus on recruiting educators who fit this model. We also provide extensive training and development opportunities to current faculty in active learning hybrid or flipped classrooms, 21st century pedagogy and web 2.0 tools.

The school has identified several development areas and topics, including understanding the scholarship of teaching and learning; writing and using patient cases to link foundational knowledge with clinical practice; preparing for and running small group seminars; and identifying the best practices for the delivery of content in formats more appropriate to modern learners.

Integrated Clinical Sciences Curriculum (ICS)

We've integrated our foundation sciences (anatomy, physiology and biochemistry) with our clinical education in a progressive fashion as D.D.S. students move through their program. This strand delivers material from courses that previously stood alone. The first-year course, "Orientation to the Clinical Practice of General Dentistry," covers how to addresses patients, collect information and prepare to treat them. Students learn through lectures, seminars, clinical and case-based exercises on diagnostic sciences, clinic systems, communication and ethics. In the second-year course, "Application of Foundational Knowledge," learning shifts to treatment planning and delivery of care. Faculty are from a broad spectrum of basic science, clinical departments and practice backgrounds. Students focus on clinical dentistry as a whole rather than the individual disciplines that comprise much of the first-year experience. Students think beyond the "ideal" skills and protocols of first year to the application of skills to real patients in clinic. The third-year course is "Multidisciplinary Case Based Seminars" and covers themes involving all aspects of clinical dentistry. Students participate in small group seminars and give formal presentations to demonstrate an understanding of dental literature. 

Integrated Preclinical Technique

In this strand, we want to go beyond the strengths of our existing clinical preparation and leverage opportunities to create a closer simulation of clinical practice. We aim to ensure an appropriate amount of contemporary technique and technology available to students. More importantly, the learning will be integrated around a patient case where the student in the simulation lab will be treating a family of patients with different needs as they would experience in the clinic. Once they have developed foundational hand skills and knowledge, they will interact with the simulated patient, the patient record and the faculty in the same way as they will in the clinic. The goal is a more authentic learning experience is to transition students to be even better prepared as they enter the clinics.

Integrated Medical Sciences

As practitioners, we all understand the importance of a strong scientific foundation to support our clinical decision-making skills. The biomedical sciences in our traditional curriculum were strong, but students were mostly left on their own to integrate this important material with their clinical science and patient care experiences. The biomedical sciences faculty have created a strand that provides a strong foundation in medical sciences while also connecting this knowledge to patient care. This happens through case discussions and by incorporating clinical faculty in the classroom to help draw connections with the material to clinical relevance.  

Clinical Practice

A student's clinical private practice team is the central organizing unit of his or her clinical experience. As part of our curriculum review, we took a deep look at our clinics. We made adjustments to the size and scope of the clinic teams in order to make sure our model is contemporary and meets the needs of both students and patients. For example, instead of four large group practices we now have eight smaller group practices to give students an experience that more closely resembles private practice. The new format allows us to incorporate practice management content into the student private practice discussions, as well as create a closer relationship between patients, students, staff and faculty in each practice. 

Personal Instruction Program (PIP)

This strand truly distinguishes the Pacific Dental Helix Curriculum. In addition to the content in the other strands, students will have the ability to choose one area related to dentistry in which to gain focused experiences. For example, we established the Dugoni Practical Leadership Initiative as one of the first of several Personalized Instructional Program (PIP) themes we have planned for coming years. Another PIP theme was the Student Educators Group for those who may be interested in pursuing teaching careers in dental education. This group attended lectures and completed practical teaching assignments to develop skills and understanding of what it means to be a member of the academy. Other themes in development include research, community service and global missions.

American Dental Education Association Commission on Change and Innovation

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Publications

Links to Resources