I spent this past summer as an intern at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research under the expert guidance of Dr. Bruce J. Baum, Chief of the Gene Transfer Section, Molecular Physiology and Therapeutics Branch. In addition to his groundbreaking research studies and ongoing clinical trial, Dr. Baum is actively engaged in dental education and has served on numerous panels reviewing dental schools in the US and abroad. When he asked about my level of satisfaction with my own dental curriculum thus far, I had few complaints, noting that it had been both a challenging and rewarding year. I felt that I had accrued a good working knowledge of normal human anatomy and physiology, certainly far more than most other dental students throughout the country. Though Dr. Baum did not disagree with my sentiments, he did question the relevance of an extensive medically-based curriculum without subsequent clinical reinforcement. He went on to articulate his belief that dental students should receive, as a part of their undergraduate dental curriculum, a short substantive training experience in general internal medicine much like our medical school colleagues receive in their third year. Though he has elaborated on the topic in several published essays*, briefly summarized, he believes that dentists will be ill-equipped to manage (the ever increasing proportion of) medically complex and compromised patients in the future without such clinical experience. Further, if the curriculum that exists in most US dental schools remains at a standstill, Dr. Baum postulates that dentistry could become a self-marginalized profession, whereby dental providers would be isolated from other integral members of the health care team. Though it is unlikely we will see changes prior to our own graduation, further clinical experience in general internal medicine could certainly be the trend in the near future.
*To read more about Dr. Baum and his determination to increase the relevancy of biological science in dental education, follow this link.