The dental curriculum at North American dental institutions in 2002-03: a survey of current structure, recent innovations, and planned changes

Denise K Kassebaum, William D Hendricson, Thomas Taft, N Karl Haden
Journal of Dental Education 2004, 68 (9): 914-31
This study examined the current format of curricula at North American dental schools, determined curriculum evaluation strategies, and identified recently implemented changes as well as planned future innovations. The academic affairs deans of sixty-four North American dental schools received an email survey in August 2002; a second, follow-up survey was sent to nonresponders in February 2003. Online responses were collected and analyzed using SurveyTracker software. The final response rate was 87 percent, with forty-eight U.S. schools and eight Canadian schools responding. Respondents were asked to select descriptive statements about the general organization of their curricula and the degree to which problem-based learning (PBL), case-reinforced learning (CRL), curricular integration, and community-based clinical treatment experiences were incorporated. They were also requested to identify strategies employed to evaluate the curriculum and to report recently completed and desired future curriculum modifications. In regard to desired future curriculum innovations, respondents identified why they were considering curriculum changes and identified resources needed to implement the planned changes. Sixty-six percent of those who responded defined their current curriculum organization as primarily discipline-based with a few interdisciplinary courses. Nearly 60 percent of schools reported that they used PBL and CRL in specific courses or for components of certain courses, but only 5 percent of the respondents indicated that all of their courses used PBL. Regarding integration of major sections of the curriculum, only 7 percent reported that their entire curriculum was organized around themes of interrelated topics. Sixty-four percent reported that their curriculum had required community-based clinical treatment experiences for students. The most frequent innovations in the past three years were increased use of computer and web-based learning (86 percent), creation of patient care experiences early in the curriculum (84 percent), enhancement of competency evaluation methods (84 percent), and curriculum decompression (79 percent). These items plus increased community-based care were the most frequently identified future curricular innovations. There were virtually no differences between the responses of Canadian and U.S. dental schools. The results of this study help to broadly characterize dental curricula at North American dental institutions and identify curriculum modifications anticipated by the academic dean respondents.

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