Beyond Great Clinicians

The Personalized Instruction Program allows students to build upon their passions

by Kirsten Mickelwait

In June 2018, Dr. Olivia Moran ’19 found herself in Cebu City in the Philippines, performing dental exams and treating people of all ages in the open-air gym of a rural elementary school. With 10 plastic recliner chairs and two Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry students working per chair, Moran and her classmates treated nearly 400 patients in five days, performing multiple extractions and restorations on each patient under faculty supervision.

Such real-world experience is exactly the point behind the Personalized Instruction Program (PIP), a required element of the school’s Helix Curriculum that provides students with in-depth learning opportunities in areas of their personal interest related to oral health care. Students design their own PIP project under the guidance of an expert mentor. There are currently more than 60 mentors, both faculty and alumni, who have supported and supervised students in this way. These projects have included the development of educational tools and manuals, creating international and local outreach programs, research projects, publications, peer teaching, videos and many others.

“The PIP project is limited only by a student’s imagination and effort,” says Dr. Terry E. Hoover, PIP faculty director and associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Diagnostic Sciences. “PIPs are credited on students’ transcripts with a notation of the project title and units earned based on time spent, along with the name of their mentor.”

Both students and mentors laud the program as an excellent experiential learning opportunity that fosters creativity, critical thinking and self-assessment skills. It also opens both eyes and doors to professional paths beyond the traditional dental office. Here are a few PIPs launched by recent graduates.

The Philippines Dental Outreach Mission Trip

Moran was born and raised in the Philippines and also lived in Sri Lanka and Singapore before attending a university in Canada and coming to the United States for dental school. When she heard about PIP and the opportunity to do an outreach trip, she immediately knew that she wanted to design one to benefit her native country, where her family still lives.

After receiving administrative approval, she recruited fellow classmates, Victoria Louie and Jackson Partin, to help her organize the trip. A year of planning went into the experience, including travel logistics, student recruitment, fundraisers and faculty participation. Moran contacted the Rise Above Foundation Cebu (RAFC), which works to improve the quality of life for poor populations with educational opportunities, livelihood training and health and hygiene programs.

Twenty students from the DDS Class of 2019 were recruited and four faculty members signed on. The leaders raised approximately $17,000 to pay for dental supplies and other necessities, and RAFC coordinated everything in the Philippines to set up the dental clinic in a rural elementary school in Cebu City. The Dugoni School contingent arrived in June 2018 and worked for five straight days attending to all those patients.

“None of them had seen a dentist before,” Moran recalls. “We restored as many teeth as we could, but many others had to be extracted. Everyone was really grateful to be seen, and the kids were so obedient and respectful. It’s all part of the Filipino culture.”

Moran is grateful to all the students and faculty members who chose to spend their summer vacation doing service work in the Philippines. It was meaningful to share her culture with other members of her class while giving back to her home country. She created a manual and made sure that three students in the group were from a later class year so that they can plan the trip and train others in the future. “I really hope that we can make a lasting impact on the standards of oral health in the Philippines,” she says.

Assistant Dean of Global Relations Eve Cuny served as the lead faculty member during PIP’s transition from an elective program to a required element of the curriculum. “I’ve seen the real value that students have derived from the opportunity to explore an area of interest within health care not covered elsewhere in the curriculum,” she says. “This may be a deeper exploration of something that has sparked an interest for the student during their education, or it may be delving into an area of interest that will carry throughout their career as a healthcare professional. The ability to identify and work closely with a mentor who can help guide the student through the process and share his or her valuable insight, knowledge and expertise offers a personalized element not found in a larger classroom setting.”

Pre-Dental Boot Camp

In 2018, when classmates Michelle Fat, Allen Abrishami and Arshia Ashjaei (now all graduates of the Class of 2019) realized that Northern California did not have comprehensive, pre-dental educational opportunities, they decided to establish the Dugoni School Pre-Dental Boot Camp (PDB). Together, they developed a course held on 10 consecutive Saturdays, which has attracted 54 pre-dental students annually for the past two years.

Offered during winter and spring quarters, the rigorous course features 10 mandatory, three-hour didactic lectures as well as hands-on learning at the Dugoni School of Dentistry facilities—lecture halls, simulation lab and clinics. Upon completion of the boot camp, participating students receive a certificate of completion from Dean Nader A. Nadershahi ’94. Some students flew in each weekend from as far as Nevada, Arizona and Washington. With their acquired knowledge and skills, “pre-dents” can start the application cycle by demonstrating that they’ve already begun investing in their dental careers.

“Our goal was to give aspiring students more exposure to the Dugoni School of Dentistry and to enable them to feel like real dental students for 10 weeks,” explains Ashjaei. “All our lectures were created and presented by Dugoni School students, which required them to have a deep understanding of their subjects. It gave them practice presenting to audiences of different backgrounds. Every day that we worked as a team, we were more motivated to represent our dental school in the best possible way.”

Fat considers PDB to be one of the most fulfilling experiences she had during dental school. “It allowed me to create something that I would have wanted when I was a pre-dental student,” she says. “It enabled me to express my creativity outside the classroom and it helped me build strong relationships within the school.”

As with the Philippines Dental Outreach Mission Trip, PDB included underclass students so that the program can continue to be offered in the years ahead.

“There is no end to education,” wrote Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. “It is not that you read a book, pass an examination and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.”

Fat agrees. “I don’t know if there’s another place like the Dugoni School,” she says. “Creating the Pre-Dental Boot Camp was a prime example of how the school supports its students in ways beyond developing great clinicians. Allowing us to turn ideas into a reality shows the well-rounded and humanistic values on which the Dugoni School of Dentistry prides itself.

Business and Leadership Symposium

The inspiration for the Business and Leadership Symposium “was to help students figure out what makes them tick and how they can apply their strengths to serve as leaders in the dental field after they graduate,” says Dr. Jasmine Flake ’19, who organized the event with Dr. Zoe Fernyhough ’19. “It was intended to be a fun and engaging workshop to let students learn not only about what opportunities are already out there but how to foster their leadership skills and create their own opportunities.”

Held in April 2018, the all-day event featured a keynote speech—“Focus on the Opportunities, Not the Obstacles”—by Dr. Nick Morton ’08, an endodontist and co-founder of Tipsy Elves. Students attended several interactive break-out sessions on practical leadership. Finally, all participants reconvened for a panel of speakers—Dr. Chrystle Cu ’08, co-founder of Cocofloss and a practicing dentist at the Young Dental Group; Dr. Clint Taura ’13, a San Francisco dentist and former adjunct instructor at the Dugoni School; Dr. Lindzy Goodman, a dentist at Dentists on Demand; and Elisabeth Wong, head of client success at Dentists on Demand—discussing “People Changing the Landscape of Dentistry.”

In organizing the symposium, Flake and Fernyhough attracted six sponsors—Procter and Gamble, Straumann, Cocofloss, First Republic, California Dental Association and The Dentists Insurance Company (TDIC)—and  an attendance of 110 dental students. About 20 volunteers organized goody bags, set up the facilities, served as speakers and room hosts and even cleaned up after the event.

“The symposium was designed to inspire leaders but, in organizing it, I also developed invaluable leadership and organizational skills for large-scale events,” Flake explains. “Through our PIP projects, we’re able to give back to the school, the community and the field of dentistry in our own individual ways.”

Kirsten Mickelwait is a copywriter, content provider and professional storyteller based in San Francisco.