Joining the Evolution: An RSDM Education

Dr. Heba Elkassaby teaches students how to use digital technology to improve their work.

At RSDM, we stay one step ahead of changes that are transforming oral healthcare. In the classroom and on the clinic floor, we embrace new technology, revolutionary treatment philosophies and the latest evidence-based research. We cultivate the value of national and local demographic shifts among patients, providers, students and faculty.

In the past year, we’ve greatly expanded our digital dentistry curriculum, providing more opportunities for students to master technological tools. On the clinic floor, they have broader access to updated digital equipment that helps diagnose and treat patients. In preclinic and in the dental arts studio, cutting-edge software measures the quality and precision of their prosthodontic work.

Another change transforming dentistry, and America, has been invaluable at RSDM: diversity. We are one of the most diverse dental schools in the nation and have been greatly enriched by RSDM community’s many cultures and ethnicities. Our diversity and inclusion programs have become national models. Last year, RSDM received an $85,000 grant from the ADEAGies Foundation to help underrepresented students and recent graduates nationwide  become leaders in the field of academic dentistry.

The program is designed encourages students who are underrepresented, including LGBTQ students, to become faculty and administrators at dental schools and institutions that educate dental hygienists. RSDM presented seminars at the

Greater New York Dental  Meeting in conjunction with New York University’s College of Dentistry, UCLA school of Dentistry and Hostos Community College School of Hygiene. This year, the program will travel to Puerto Rico and RSDM will host national webinars on the topic in collaboration with the American Dental Association (ADA).

As the medical world moves toward an interdisciplinary model, RSDM has collaborated with other Rutgers schools to improve the future of patient care. We’ve exchanged ideas and expertise with students from Rutgers New Jersey Medical school, and those training to be social workers, nurses, physical therapists and pharmacologists. Until now, they’ve worked on hypothetical cases together but soon they’ll help treat patients as a team. Patients benefit greatly when their oral health needs are part of a holistic form of care, and our work across disciplines has helped other providers realize that oral health impacts overall health.

We continue interdisciplinary work at the Rutgers Community Health Center in our home base of Newark, where RSDM students provide oral health screenings while working with nursing students and others. The program was funded with a $2 million grant awarded in 2016.

Both trends – technology and interprofessionalism– are even more critical as providers struggle with a deadly public health crisis: the opioid epidemic. Opioid abuse, which often begins with a prescription for painkillers, is transforming the medical profession, especially oral healthcare, since providers must often treat chronic and acute pain. Increasingly sophisticated digital programs, used by our students, track patients’ prescription history and make it easier for dentists to consult with other providers.

This year, New Jersey passed stringent laws that limit prescriptions for opioids and require continuing education for providers. RSDM Dean Cecile A. Feldman spoke out about the epidemic in NJ Spotlight, an influential journal on public policy, calling upon providers to go above and beyond new regulations by seeking alternatives to opioids. She predicted that today’s dental school students, with their awareness of substance opioid abuse, will be less likely to prescribe the drugs.

In 2017 and 2018, we continued our rigorous competency-based clinical program, which is lauded by residency directors and other professionals, who report that our students’ skills and experience level is far above their peers. Our pass rate for the National Dental Review Board Exams was 99 percent for Part One of the test and 95 percent for Part Two. Eighty-nine percent of our graduating students who sought placement through a Match were placed, compared to 66 percent nationally.

As we adapt to an ever-evolving profession, an RSDM education is rooted in tradition. Students acquire essential knowledge and techniques, enabling them to become tomorrow’s change makers. And always, they develop the timeless values of integrity, compassion, discovery and hard work.