The future’s bright
The Faculty of Dentistry RCSI’s newly structured MGDS examination, now open to applicants worldwide, will be delivered in an online format from November. The Faculty Dean, Professor Albert Leung, and International Postgraduate Advisor, Mr Sean Sheridan, reflect on the challenging events of the past 18 months and look ahead…
How has the pandemic affected practice and education and what’s your sense on the future of both?
Professor Albert Leung: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected both the practice of dentistry and dental education in a permanent and indelible manner. As Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry RCSI and Professor of Dental Education at UCL Eastman Dental Institute, I feel that I have had much exposure and experience with both of these aspects in a unique manner, which I would really like to share with you.
In a sense, COVID-19 was a rude wake-up call for many longstanding clinical and pedagogic practices, and that the status quo would no longer be an option. I mean it in the nicest possible way, that the pandemic forced us into swiftly thinking long and hard about some fundamental beliefs which overnight became completely out of sync, irrelevant, and even unsafe and unsound. The change in outlook to these concepts in clinical practice has been one of the key features that
COVID-19 has had in changing the clinical practice of dentistry. Who would have thought about the routine use of Test-fitted FFP3 masks, goggles and gowns for the dental professionals, N95 masks for the patients, routine hand-washes for everyone, reinforced infection prevention and control measures, the new protocols on aerosol generation procedures (AGPs), social distancing, the obliteration of open-plan surgeries, the accelerated departure from using air turbines, the huge reduction of patient throughput, and many more examples?
In terms of dental education, the rapid move from face-to-face teaching to an exclusively online, or hybrid, mode has been staggering. The concept of asynchronous learning, bespoke curriculum being delivered to everyone’s home, and a vast reduction in clinical activities, would have been unimaginable. With comprehensive treatment plans going out of the window, active prevention and conservative management and maintenance of the patient’s oral health becoming the mainstay of treatment modality, we would have been completely taken by surprise. With so many students (and even teachers) facing extenuating circumstances and, perhaps more acutely, the inability to pay for their own continuing professional development, the changes have been seismic to say the least.
Modified curricula, inverted approaches, flexible and honed-in deliveries of education, including some close support clinical skills acquisition, have certainly caught on very rapidly. The motto “the survival of the fittest” certainly comes to mind. As far as the Faculty of Dentistry of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is concerned, we swiftly and successfully moved our default learning platform on-line within two weeks of the first lockdown. We reinforced the education content being offered, online, to our 3,000 fellows, members, diplomats and affiliates to support their continual learning and career development, in this unique manner. We linked this content to our proctored, standard set online examinations to allow colleagues both in Ireland and abroad, both in primary care practices and beyond, the opportunity to collaboratively continue to develop their skills, knowledge and acumen.
This has gone down very well with our colleagues all round the globe, and this bespoke hybrid mode of delivery of education, plus our robust but fair and flexible online assessments along a career pathway both for dentist in primary care and in higher training, will, I think, be a norm for us moving on as we gradually exit the pandemic. The future is bright in my opinion, because I think we have been able to refocus and reinvigorate as a profession. This is where the MGDS RCSI comes into play; as it is about a bespoke examination organised by RCSI to raise standards in primary care practices; arguably, the environment where up to 90 per cent of dentists practice in. As we know, all the RCSI qualifications are 100 per cent compatible in the EU and, as part of the National University of Ireland (NUI), RCSI qualifications are completely quality assured. Please come and join us.
Mr Sean Sheridan: The effect on education, not only for dentistry, was a real wake-up call for survival, requiring new initiatives. The internet was the answer, with all fields of education becoming involved with various forms of online learning, as face-to-face contact was restricted and in many cases no longer available. We in the Faculty of Dentistry Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland were very quick to embrace this technology, firstly by modifying most of our examinations to an online format. This now allows candidates to ccomplete the examinations from their own home/ office/country. In addition, our usual examination preparatory courses were similarly modified to be screened online. For the future, I believe this format of education will continue – however, we as educators look forward to a return to face-to-face, or at least a hybrid version allowing both on-line and face-to-face teaching. Certain aspects of clinical and technical dentistry do require a hands-on approach.
Tell us about your own experience of the MGDS exam.
Albert: I was indeed an MGDS candidate 25 years ago and doesn’t time fly?! At the time, I found the MGDS RCSI examination onerous and demanding. The four advanced and comprehensive patient cases from one’s own practice, to be presented at the highest order, were tough and so was the practice inspection and the general viva voce that followed. I was so happy and relieved that I passed.
The MGDS was the key for me at the time to secure a part-time lecturer position at the dental school, allowing me to combine primary care dental practice, teaching clinical dentistry, to train and study further whilst in practice. The MGDS RCSI opened the first gate for me. Little did I know at the time, that progressing my career 25 years from that point, that I would be the proud Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry at RCSI. I would thoroughly recommend the MGDS to everyone. I was involved in the running of the MGDS examinations from 2004, until I became Vice Dean in 2017.
It was very much a team effort led in particular by the inspiring Sean Sheridan, the brilliant Dr Mary Keating and the wonderful Dr Peter Cowan. Dr Keating also established an MGDS study group in Ireland. The MGDS in Kuwait, in particular, had been a special three-year full-time training programme for many years, producing some extraordinary advanced and competent local practitioners, thanks to the close support mentoring programme the Faculty delivered under Mr Sheridan and Dr Keating. The format for the MGDS which you are looking at in 2021 has been changed and is very much in line with the development of modern dental education, for colleagues in Ireland in particular but for elsewhere – home and abroad – as well, and these changes will be discussed later on in this article.
Sean: I have been involved in the running of the MGDS examination for more than 20 years. It was always very much a team effort with major contributions from many other colleagues (too numerous to mention) who assisted often requiring not only travel in Ireland but also the UK, Germany and Middle East mostly Kuwait (special three-year MGDS training programme). I must acknowledge the extraordinary assistance of Dr Peter Cowan and Dr Mary Keating during those latter years, particularly in Kuwait. Dr Keating was instrumental in establishing an MGDS Study Group here in the College, which ran for many years.
What was your input into the restructuring of the MGDS exam and what are its key features?
Albert: The restructuring of the MGDS has been a real team effort, from Mr Sheridan, Gerry Kearns, Professor Lynch and myself as Dean. The main objectives of the restructuring were to make the MGDS examination relevant to the contemporary day-to-day primary care clinical practice environment, not only here in Ireland but across the globe as well. The key feature now is that the new MGDS is a knowledge-based online examination, assessing the same features which candidates would have been presenting from their patient treatment cases in the old format.
Sean: The restructuring process was very much a team effort involving many experienced MGDS Examiners, along with the current Chair of the Education Committee Gerry Kearns and the Dean, Prof Albert Leung. The main aim was to make the examination fit for purpose and more relevant to the modern dental general practice environment.
How has the Faculty fared and what are the things you are most looking forward to?
Albert: Thanks to the fantastic teamwork from Faculty colleagues and from our brilliant operational and administrative staff, the Faculty has managed to adapt very well in facing the unprecedented challenges arising from the pandemic. Many of the features which we have developed, such as the dedicated learning hub, examinations preparatory programmes, the reform of the MGDS, the online examinations and learning opportunities we offer, are going to continue to feature heavily for the future. The future is bright, so please come and join us!
What has international engagement with the new approach been like?
Sean: The new format allows eligible candidates to challenge the examination online from any part of the world. The first diet of the new format will take place in November 2021. There are 48 registered for the examination, with more than half from overseas.
Applications closing date: 1 November 2021 https://facultyofdentistry.ie/examinations/ general-examinations/mgds-examination