Written by Dr Jennifer Vitez
Continuing education is crucial for dental professionals both as a legal mandate and as an opportunity to learn beyond the scope of our initial university training. Whether provided for free or at high tuition, we enter courses expecting to enhance our knowledge and capabilities, then impart our revelations to our patients. However, there exists a growing consensus among the dental community: not all continuing education courses are created equal.
The more I have been out of school and practicing dentistry, the more I ask this fundamental question: What does it take to teach and learn? Education is a two-way street. It takes a good teacher who can connect with students and teach them something valuable, and it takes a good student who is willing to open their mind to unfamiliar or challenging material and is willing to take feedback both praising and constructive. These are concepts I like to call coaching and being coachable. I have a reputation among my colleagues as being an avid crossfitter, so if you will permit me, I will use the sport crossfit for my learning analogy.
For coaching, course instructors require the ability to communicate. I prescribe to the VAK—Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic—approach to learning. The majority of people learn by attaining data predominantly by seeing, hearing or physically touching data. Some of us learn with a combination of these three. In crossfit, a coach would introduce a weightlifting or gymnastic movement by first describing it, showing visual references, demonstrating the movement, then providing athletes a chances to practice the movement on equipment. Dentistry requires all three methods of learning as well because the nature of dentistry is visual, auditory and kinesthetic, so it makes sense to incorporate sight, sound, demonstration and interaction in courses. Instructors that provide for all three senses can coach optimally. That way instructors can connect best with students, and students have multiple modes of attaining knowledge.
For coachability, students require the willingness to learn. Even the best instructors cannot teach a student who is unwilling to learn. Crossfit coaches will provide their athletes opportunities to practice then perform those movements during the day’s workout. When a coach observes that an athlete is performing a movement incorrectly, he or she needs to correct the athlete by showing the error and then modifying the movement. In physical fitness is this critical, not only to maximize the athlete’s efforts in the workout, but to prevent injuries. In dentistry, mistakes are bound to happen with new techniques or materials, but being coachable by receiving criticism and correction during a course on models help avoid making these mistakes on patients. People’s health and safety are on the line. Course attendees must remain coachable to prevent harming their patients when adapting these changes.
Because health sciences continue to advance, we dental professionals must stay abreast of these developments to provide our patients. With courses taught by instructors that are good coaches and attended by us professionals that are coachable students, we can continue to provide optimal care that is current and evidence-based.
Dr Jenny Vitez
– General Dentist
– Former Clinical Adjunct Faculty of Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine
– Member of the American Dental Association, California Dental Association & San Gabriel Valley Dental Society
– Amateur Crossfitter