From the chair

December 2nd, 2013
Advising future dentists from the patient’s perspective

The patient perspective of a dental practice can be worlds apart from that of the professional providing care.

This realization led 15 fourth-year dental students to participate in a new selective course based on the book “A Few Words from the Chair” by David Clow. The course uses videos and weekly group sessions to spark spirited discussion about patient-centered care.

Clow, writing from the patient’s perspective, attempts to convince dentists of the value of mutual understanding and offers his take on dentistry’s potential impact: “Your practice is my mouth, my body, my physical well-being, my happiness, my career, my family, my dreams, my whole life. That’s how much you can affect me.”

Dr. William Wathen, associate professor in general dentistry at A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, created the course curriculum. After a friend recommended Wathen read the book, it resonated with him because he built his private dental practice on the philosophy of empathetic listening. He doggedly pursued a way to share the book’s pearls of wisdom with aspiring dentists.

“I thought, ‘How can we make this available to all our students?’” Wathen says.

He approached the Baylor College of Dentistry Alumni Association about purchasing the books as a gift for graduating dental students, which they did, but he knew he needed to take it a step further. He set out to develop a selective course that would reinforce the behavioral science aspect of a successful dental practice and help students strengthen their interpersonal competency.

“Patients want to belong to a dental team that understands their needs and are willing to help them achieve their goals,” Wathen says. “You cannot be a successful practitioner if you don’t understand and appreciate the patient.

“Students have to decide what kind of dentist they want to be. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Are we here to fill holes, or are we here to serve people?’”

Wathen expected four or five students for the course’s inaugural semester, so he was surprised and pleased when three times that many registered. At least eight others are auditing the course due to scheduling conflicts. In future semesters, Wathen intends to make the course available to dental hygiene students, third-year dental students and alumni.

“Dental Crossroads – Procedure Oriented or Patient Oriented” is made possible by the departments of General Dentistry and Media Resources and the volunteer services of Clow and the other content contributors. This cross section of experts in financial planning, practice management, motivational interviewing and client service addresses topics such as hiring the right team and creating an exceptional patient experience.

Wathen says course content, available for viewing free of charge, will change over time as new videos are added and students offer feedback.

“This is a work in progress, but the topic is critical for modern dentistry,” Wathen says.

— LaDawn Brock