Cork University Dental School and Hospital (CUDSH) works hard to stay ahead of the educational and technological needs of its students.
The Dean of the School of Dentistry at University College Cork, Professor Martin Kinirons, says that in the last five years the standard of student entering the school has continued to rise. How does he measure that? In simple terms, the points level of students has risen. “Five years ago about one-fifth of our Irish Leaving Cert entry cohort would come in with maximum points from the Leaving Cert. That figure is now at about 30%.” The School also takes about one-third of each class from overseas and the Dean says that this is very healthy for the class and for the University. There are usually a further three mature students in the class and these have included students from a wide range of backgrounds including a PhD in pharmacology, law graduates and business graduates.
So it tends to be an impressive group of people and Professor Kinirons says: “Our job as a university school and hospital is to match bright students with good outcomes.” At postgraduate level, the School provides masters, clinical doctorate and PhD degrees.
How does the School monitor and improve its standards? “We undertake an annual monitoring exercise, we are inspected and accredited by the Dental Council every five years and are also reviewed by the Irish Universities Quality Assurance Programme. We also undergo a University Research Quality Review every five years. In recent years we have continued to develop strengths in our publications, research-related activities, and the level of research income that we achieve. The second part of that is very important as we have innovated well in the area of training and education with research. My predecessor, Professor Finbarr Allen, deserves great credit for initiating the Clinical Dental Fellows programme, which allows us to produce the clinical dental educators of the future. In fact, the Clinical Dental Fellowship has proven to be a very successful pathway into the professional teaching of dentistry. Dr Gerry McKenna is a great example of the success: he trained in Dundee, came to us for the Fellowship and is now a Senior Lecturer/Consultant in Belfast. The success has been down to both the quality of the personnel coming into the programme, and the desire and ability of the College and University to recognise professional skills.”
The dental profession, and especially the academic part of the profession, has a very healthy tradition of geographical circulation, something noted by the Professor. “That’s certainly the case here now as most of the senior clinical staff were trained outside of UCC. Against that UCC has produced the current Deans of four dental schools: UCC, TCD, Leeds and Singapore. So it is important to make a contribution to the wider profession and Cork Dental School and Hospital can certainly claim to be doing that.” (For the record, the UCC-trained Deans elsewhere are: Professor Brian O’Connell in Dublin; Professor Helen Whelton in Leeds; and, Professor Finbarr Allen in Singapore.)
“We have made good progress in the research culture here and especially its integration into the teaching in the School. An over-arching research group is now active, providing a structure and a forum for collaboration,” says Professor Kinirons. He is pleased with that progress and cites two areas of active research in the School and Research Centre: HRB-funded research on oral disease prevention and management; and, the impact of oral health on people’s quality of life.
There has, he says, been a renewed focus on the skills required for patient safety, with students being given extra skills in patient communications and the fundamentals of ethics. “We continually strive to improve the skills of our graduates so that their career pathways and prospects are improved.” And speaking of career pathways, it is evident that the vocational training scheme for dentists is badly missed. “It needs to be re-instated. We are keen on that; our colleagues in the Dublin Dental School are keen; the Faculty of Dentistry at RCSI is keen; and the Irish Dental Association is keen to see it develop. We have even met with Ministers Varadkar and Lynch and they certainly seemed interested.” So why isn’t it happening? It appears that the process of developing a National Oral Health Strategy includes defining the needs of the patients and the profession. So that process includes consideration of foundation training and specialist areas of practice as well as a wide range of other matters.
Changes in dentistry
Reflecting on the changes in dentistry generally, Professor Kinirons observes that the big move is away from the dentist deciding exactly what happens to managing the patients’ expectations. “The challenge now is geared around marrying the oral health aspect of care with what the patient wants. Handling that can be difficult.”
The student experience
Dr Frank Burke, a Leinster-supporting Dubliner, is a Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Restorative Dentistry, Vice-Head of College (Academic Affairs) and Chair of Teaching and Curriculum at the Dental School. He graduated from TCD in 1982 and spent more than a decade in London before joining UCC in 1998.
Frank deals with the incoming students and with their expectations of how to succeed. “The students in our intake are in the top 2% of Leaving Cert results. They are hard-working high achievers. They come in with highly structured and rigid thought processes; they are driven by exams and their expectations are that if they learn the notes, they will do well. Our objective is to have them graduate in five years’ time with communication, problem-solving and clinical skills. The adjustment in thinking can be a shock and they sometimes get frustrated because they cannot get it perfectly right as they have done up to then. In fact, many have no experience of failure. However, our class sizes are small, our mix of Irish, mature and overseas students is very good, and we have an excellent mentoring system here. This helps the students to overcome those challenges.”
At a wider level, Frank notes that while accommodation for first years and overseas students is a priority, the facilities at UCC are very good. Cork City has a population of 120,000 people, 20,000 of whom are students. “We place a big emphasis on student experience, with student health and well-being being at the core of our concern. Drink sponsorship is not tolerated on campus, for example, and the University is very proactive in the areas of student physical and emotional well-being.
School and Hospital Manager Siobhan Lynch is streamlining administrative processes and overseeing the introduction of new technology. In recent times, the School and Hospital has installed 40 new dental chairs in the adult restorative dentistry clinic. Additionally, students and staff now have chair-side screens for digital radiography, as well as continuous and upgraded wifi access. “Having brought in chair-side digital radiography, we are just about to go to tender for the supply of cone beam technology. Once that is in place, our plans are to introduce digital charts within about three years.”
Dr Christine McCreary is the Chair of Clinical Governance at CUDSH. A senior lecturer and consultant in oral medicine, she is a native of Belfast, originally graduated from TCD, and trained in Dublin. “Our Service Level Agreement is with the Health Service Executive (HSE). That means we come fully under the remit of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). So we have to serve two masters – the University and the HSE – and that in turn meant we had to have a close look at our governance structures. Having done that, we are putting in place the recommendations of the HSE’s Quality Improvement Programme.” Christine acknowledges that has meant a lot of extra work (including for her) but says CUDSH has achieved a lot in the last two and a half years. She gives credit to the Hospital Manager Siobhan Lynch and her team, including Director of Nursing Mary Moloney, for those achievements.
“We now have a Patient Safety Improvement Group meeting every two weeks, and a group of younger staff on the Practice Development Group who are responsible for developing policy for the future. That Group is made up of several of our DClinDent and PhD students, all of whom are under 35. They are developing the policy that they will likely have to apply in future years.”
The Netherlands: UCC has an academic and student exchange (under the Erasmus programme) with Nijmegen University. Each year there are fifth year students on exchange for the August to December term.
USA: There is research collaboration as well as staff visits with Tufts University in Boston, and the clinical fellows and lecturing staff have research exchanges with universities in Pittsburgh and Seattle.
United Kingdom: The University of Manchester and CUDSH operate a clinical training exchange.
Canada: UCC is the only centre in Europe hosting the National Dental Examination Board examination for accreditation to work in Canada.
A Dub gone native
Professor Martin Kinirons was born and raised in Glasnevin in Dublin until the age of 14, at which point his family moved to Cork. He went on to study dentistry in the School of which he is now Dean, qualifying in 1976. Despite the fact that his wife, Collette, is from Cork, he only spent one year in UCC after graduation before returning in 2003 as Professor of Paediatric Dentistry. His training included two years in practice in the UK, a year in Manchester Dental Hospital and that year in Cork, before he went to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast where he got his training in paediatric dentistry for four years. He subsequently obtained a consultant’s post in the Royal Victoria Hospital and while there acted as Postgraduate Dental Adviser for Northern Ireland and completed a PhD in Queen’s University. Queen’s University then offered him a post in their Dental School and Hospital, where he stayed for ten years as Head of Paediatric Dentistry. Ten years after returning to UCC, he was made Dean of the School.
Collette and Martin have three sons: Michael who works in business in London; Ross who is an engineer in Cork; and, Rick who is a business consultant in Dublin. Michael and his wife Sarah have a daughter, Amelia, making Martin and Collette very happy grandparents.
In his spare time, Martin loves trekking and hill walking. He has completed four of five parts of the Camino and intends to walk the final part this year. He has, though, gone native and supports Munster in the rugby.
Journalist and managing editor at Think Media