Early Performance of the Patient-Doctor Relationship As a Predictor of Success in Dental Education

Funder(s): Joint Commission of the American Dental Association

The objective of this study is to ascertain if it is possible to predict future (third year) academic performance of dental students through the assessment of their performance in a patient-centered course (Patient-Doctor I) offered during the first year. If so, can early educational interventions in the form of peer mentoring lead to better student performance, improved student satisfaction, and/or early realization that dentistry is not an appropriate match for certain students.

The faculty of the Patient-Doctor I (PDI) course has remained remarkably stable over the last 10 years, and the majority of the senior tutors responsible for guiding the students in their clinical years are also still affiliated with HSDM, in touch with each other, and stationed in the greater Boston area. Over the years, many anecdotal stories have given rise to the idea that instructors of PDI can easily predict who will be “stars” and who will be “laggards” once those students enter the clinical years of their education. If this is indeed true, it is the responsibility of the institution to intervene early (and reassess) to try to improve academic success and satisfaction among its students.

Students’ performance in PDI is assessed through a standardized assessment, which has been in use for 10 years. Students’ performance during their clinical years is assessed through formative and normative manual skills testing, as well as through a qualitative written report, which assesses their attitude, behavior, and patient-interaction skills. We plan to collect the assessments from the PDI course of the last 10 years for a total of 350 students and identify the stars and laggards. Of those students, we will then collect the qualitative reports of their clinical performance and confirm our interpretation of those qualitative reports with the relevant senior tutors through an interview process. We will then compare the two datasets for a positive correlation. If such a correlation is found to be present, we plan to implement a well-defined peer-mentoring program, in which the stars of the PDI course are matched with the laggards. The emphasis of the mentor will be on discussing with, showing, and providing feedback to the mentee regarding specific patient-doctor interpersonal skills that may be innate to the mentor but need to be expressively learned by the mentee. Being able to early on (first semester of the first year) predict significant poor academic performance will allow faculty to provide early meaningful remediation.