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Clinical Humanities for Dental Undergraduates - Learning to look from different perspectives

During spring term 2016 the the Dental Institute at King’s  developed and ran a new pilot module, Clinical Humanities for Dental Undergraduates to support the undergraduate Batchelor of Dentistry Science clinical teaching.


Clinical Teaching involves supporting small groups of dental students as they treat their own patients. The students’ main concerns are not so much with the technical skills required, but with the ambiguities of clinical practice: the ‘hidden curriculum', decision making, issues of communication and professionalism.

‘The role-playing helped to show us where little things such as how you rest your hands, which may be very subtle, can change how the patient may interact with you.’

In the belief that much more can be done within dental education to develop  crucial elements of practice, a pilot programme was delivered at the King's Dental Institute that used the Arts and Humanities-based approach now accepted in many medical schools as part of a more humanistic and rounded education. Since dental students face the same pressures and steep learning curve as medical students as they go from the classroom to clinic, there is no reason why arts and humanities-based learning shouldn’t have the same potential to enhance not only their clinical skills and student experience but also their ability to care for patients and themselves.

Aim and description of the project:

 ‘I loved the ceramics session and found it really interesting and useful. I had never thought of using arts and humanities as part of Dentistry before but now I want to integrate this as part of my learning experience’

The aim of the pilot was to provide an opportunity for students to reflect on the range of haptic and visual skills, as well as the complex layers of interpreting, judging and communicating, that constitute the development of professional mastery. It was decided to run a voluntary, extra-curricular programme of six sessions over six consecutive weeks in the evening after clinics for which students would receive a certificate of participation to add to their experience portfolio as part of their Higher Education Achievement Record.

The pilot targeted third year students under the age of 23 without a previous university degree.  This was in response to previous work carried out on the reflective habits of students at the Dental Institute at KIng's that indicated that students in this category could benefit more from tutoring in reflective thinking. Thus, Bachelors of Dental Surgery students of <23 years old, without a previous university degree, were invited to participate, and 20 students were randomly recruited from those who responded.


  ‘[The Actor] had some really useful pointers on how to be professional, still approachable when with patients and also the importance of being able to separate your different ‘personas’ for example being ‘professional’ at work and then going home and relaxing, leaving the stresses of the day behind.’

To appropriately capture the experiential and reflective nature of the pilot, an interpretative approach to evaluation was built into the programme from the beginning. Ethics approval was given to analyse in detail the experiences of the students through a range of means, including weekly written reflections, student responses to open questions, and feedback on what they perceived to have been the effect of this type of intervention. Video recordings were also made of the sessions including interviews with the students. The end of year communication exam results and rankings of the cohort were also accessed with the students’ consent in June 2016. A full evaluation has yet to be conducted, but the students’ feedback so far indicates that their experience has been extremely positive as indicated in the many pages of reflection produced during the pilot.

Through working with experts from the Cultural Institute at King's and using an Arts & Humanities approach to teaching, the students were able to start appreciating aspects of Clinical Dentistry from a different perspective and gain confidence in dealing with complex decision making in real life dentistry,   which in turn improves the students' ability to deliver care to their patients. There was also great benefit to their own wellbeing  by becoming more comfortable dealing with ambiguity,  exploring other parts of King's  and learning a little of the cultural experiences offered by the university.



Project Team:

  • Flora Smyth Zahra, lecturer in restorative dentistry, Dentistry Institute (Academic Lead and Module Convener)
  • Kate Dunton, Resarch and Education Manager, Cultural Institute (Cultural Institute Lead)
Project Contributers:
  • Drew Caiden (Actor)
  • Sheridan Humphreys (Screenwriter)
  • Tamsin Van Essen (Ceramicist)
  • Professor Roger Kneebone (Professor of Surgical Education and Engagement Science)
  • Ross Lindgreen (Film-maker)
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