For the first time University of Otago pharmacy and dentistry students have collaborated within a clinic setting to improve their training and improve patient care.
In fact the experimental new programme could be a world leader for interprofessional education, organisers say.
Ten third-year Bachelor of Pharmacy students paired up with 10 third-year Bachelor of Dental Surgery students over October to ensure patients presenting at the Dunedin Faculty of Dentistry had medications experts on hand during clinical consults.
Often dental patients are taking multiple medications, some of which can directly and indirectly impact their oral health and dental care. The Pharmacy students were able to draw on expert skills and knowledge to help identify and understand those patients’ medications.
Pharmacy Education Associate Professor Kyle Wilby, who supervised the programme alongside Dr Abdullah Barazanchi and Alison Meldrum from the Faculty of Dentistry and Professor Carlo Marra from the School of Pharmacy, says it appears having pharmacy and dentistry students learn together in the clinic context is novel to the country and region as a whole.
“People don’t think of pharmacy and dentistry working together, but many patients over the age of 50 are on multiple medications. Seeing patients with 10 to 15 different medications isn’t uncommon. Many patients also forget to mention some of their medications when being questioned.”
Associate Professor Wilby says dental students aren’t expected to be pharmacy and medication-history experts. But pharmacy students are.
That knowledge was important as some medications can increase gum growth, cause tooth discolouration or suppress the immune system – increasing the chances of infections.
“Conversely, the pharmacy students usually get very little exposure to oral health patients, and any chance to improve that is one we thought we should take.”
All work was done under supervision with a broad range of patients being seen, he says.
“The dentistry student would do their history and physical exam, then the pharmacy student would come in and perform a medications history.”
Students then discussed their findings together, helping and learning from each other.
“The pharmacy students learnt first-hand the effect some conditions have on patients, and how medications can effect that. And while pharmacy students have patient experience, that’s normally limited to a pharmacy or hospital setup. This was the first time they had been inside a dental setting.”
Pharmacy student Jacob Dresser says the initiative was a great addition to his pharmacy training.
“I really enjoyed this experience because it was such a unique opportunity to learn. Being able to collaborate in a real-life setting provided me with new insights into the benefits of IPE, which I’m sure other students will find if this were continued in future.”
Such was the value of the programme those future plans are now being formulated to roll it out on a bigger level next year, Associate Professor Wilby says.
“It surpassed expectations in terms of the learning experience it provided and we think it would be worth pursuing the relationship between the two schools further.
“We want to have it be more longitudinal, perhaps running over a whole semester, so we can measure patient outcomes and see what happens as a result of the pharmacy students being there.”
And such experience may become more common in the future, with the possibility of pharmacists eventually working more closely with dentists, Associate Professor Wilby says.
“We’re seeing Pharmacy students working in general practice clinics now, and other places. So I think we’re identifying that this might be a future role for pharmacy.”