by Joe Blaes, DDS
A year ago, Christian B. Sager, Executive Director of The Pankey Institute, and I discussed the changing demographics and educational needs of the dental profession. Surveys conducted by The Pankey Institute indicated that increasingly more dentists — men as well as women — preferred to spend fewer days away from home. Mr. Sager felt this market sentiment was strong enough to warrant an evaluation of the Institute's curriculum to determine what could be changed to meet the demand.
The Pankey Institute's faculty set to work and, by December 2003, had committed to creatively combine knowledge and technology to reduce the number of days students would need to be at the Institute without sacrificing the quality of the learning experience. The timing seemed perfect. Over the previous summer, faculty members had been immersed in the study of how adults learn. Revising the Continuum format would be an ideal opportunity to incorporate up-to-date knowledge on effective professional continuing education. The new academic format was scheduled to start in late September, so I called Chris to see how things were going.
Dr. Blaes: The last time we spoke, you were guardedly confident that the Institute would be able to achieve its new Continuum format by September. Now that September's come and gone, what's the latest?
Mr. Sager: I'm happy to say many individuals who are truly dedicated to the success of the Institute took on the challenge and met every objective. The resident faculty and Provost Committee really threw themselves into the project, and in collaboration with internal and external professionals, not only reorganized the curriculum, but prepared our visiting faculty and developed web-based learning modules and all the internal support materials needed to start the new Continuum format on schedule.
Dr. Blaes: What changes were made?
Mr. Sager: Most noticeable is going from five-day courses to three-day courses. For more than 30 years, our courses were five days in order to fulfill curriculum objectives. For the greatest time, the five-day duration did not discourage participants from making the decision to come. Nevertheless, we were always sensitive that five days away from one's dental practice and family is a large investment in CE. Now with the advent of new technology, we can achieve our objectives and also help our participants apply the learning faster.
By using Web-based learning technology, our courses will require only three days and nights at the Institute from Sunday noon to Wednesday noon. By segmenting parts of our Continuum to distance learning, we'll be getting our participants back home to their practices and families faster. And, they'll receive the same individualized educational experience as before, only differently.
I don't want you to think this is the first time we've changed the Continuum. It's continuously changed as dentistry has changed. The Institute has always sought to proactively listen to participant concerns and stay aware of changes and new understandings of how adults learn.
Dr. Blaes: How will the Web-based modules work?
Mr. Sager: We're using a platform called a "virtual classroom." It allows us as much interaction as a conference call. We also have the advantage of a virtual whiteboard, embedded video, streaming video, PowerPoint presentations, and voiceover IP (bidirectional audio). We're able to have live conversations online.
Web-based workshops will support each level of the Continuum and will take place two to four weeks after classes end to allow participants time to absorb what they've learned. The Web-based portion will last about four to six hours. Most important is that Web broadcasts will enable us to assist doctors in explaining to their staffs what they intend to implement and why.
Participants will have access to an expanded video library, allowing them to share what they've learned with people at home or office. When a participant has a question, he or she can conveniently view a video on how to do a procedure or assist in explaining new strategies.
Dr. Blaes: What do your students need to participate?
Mr. Sager: To participate in live discussions, students will need an inexpensive microphone or wireless headset connected to their computers. A dial-up connection may be used, but live video will be jerky and downloads may be slow. DSL or cable lines are recommended. An e-mail invitation will be sent to participants several days before Web-based workshops are to begin with a software download and instructions. Setup only requires opening the e-mail and following the prompts. We'll provide a short introduction to Web-based learning at the Institute before participants go home.
Dr. Blaes: Did the content of the course change?
Mr. Sager: Dentists develop as clinicians, business executives, and caring professionals as they go through the Continuum. Special care was taken to ensure content remained intact. Those entering and continuing in the Continuum will receive most of the same knowledge and exercises that previous participants experienced. The clinical and behavioral portions all remain. We still will provide practice-management instruction and leadership concepts in the Continuum, but not as much as while on-site in Key Biscayne. Let me explain.
Currently there are nine advancing courses in the Continuum, organized in three sections with three courses in each of these sections. Participants begin with the Foundational Level of courses and can elect to continue at an individual pace. In the three Foundational courses, they practice techniques in our clinic and lab that are essential for producing long-lasting optimal health, function, comfort, and natural aesthetics. In the three Restorative Level courses, they continue with world-class faculty helping them design restorations that achieve natural beauty and optimal function with long-term, predictable results. The final level of three courses is the Interdisciplinary Level. General dentists are encouraged to bring one or more of their specialists with them as they attend this series.
A portion of every Continuum course is devoted to the doctor-patient relationship. Our purpose is to help dentists develop some of the "softer" skills of practice in the areas of psychology, communication, and ethics. We found a number of the behavioral presentations and discussions were well-suited to Web-based, distance learning.
Another part is devoted to advancing the understanding of financial- and business-management issues for better practice control and decision-making. Several business presentations and exercises also have been moved to the Web-based portion of the curriculum. To provide sufficient room at the Institute for hands-on and group activities, we are moving some other business components to a separate, three-day course.
Dr. Blaes: What distinguishes The Pankey Institute from other CDE organizations?
Mr. Sager: I could talk all day on this topic, but essentially, the comprehensive curriculum offers development in all aspects of practice and quickly guides the participant along a proven path for creating a fee-for-service, patient-centered practice. The advanced clinical training develops the competence and confidence needed for a successful, contemporary restorative practice.
Some of the best dentists in the world teach here, using the latest technology. Our courses are respectful of adult learners, incorporating the latest knowledge from the field of education. We continuously update our offerings to incorporate the most current advanced technological and academic changes in dentistry. Our environment is friendly and supportive. The collegial experience found here is rare. We enjoy a mentoring community and culture with an effective mentoring program to encourage and help dentists when they go home and start implementing what they've learned.
Furthermore, the Institute is a not-for-profit educational organization that takes no money from corporations or other organizations. As such, it stands virtually alone in dental continuing education — unbiased by the for-profit ambitions of third parties. You know how special that is in today's world.
Dr. Blaes: What response have you received to the changes?
Mr. Sager: Press releases about the changes went out in May, and we began informational notices in Dental Economics, Woman Dentist Journal, and other periodicals. In the May issue of our newsletter, The Pankeygram, we described the changes to our participants and alumni. We then started meeting with groups of faculty and took time to respond to phone calls, mail, and e-mail. The enrollment response is definitely positive.
We also are seeing positive response from our mentoring program. We reorganized our visiting faculty teams and dedicated more faculty members to developing mentors. One of our objectives for this year was to increase the ongoing support we provide our participants. The visiting faculty has stepped up with renewed enthusiasm, and members are starting up new Pankey Institute Affiliated Learning Groups across the country. Our resident faculty and lead visiting faculty are committing hours each week to staying in conversation with current participants in the Continuum.
Students enrolled in the September three-day courses are just now experiencing the Web-based, distance-learning portion of their course. When the new year arrives, I will be able to tell you more about their experiences and comments.
Dr. Blaes: Regarding your next survey, what kinds of information are you planning?
Mr. Sager: The Institute will continue to survey participants about the quality of their experiences at the Institute, the implementation of what they are learning, the technology they use and plan on acquiring for their practices, their practice demographics and operations, and factors influencing their continuing dental education decisions. In 2005, we will be branching out to survey specialists and developing an understanding of their needs relating to interdisciplinary treatment-planning with general dentists. We will do this via a Web-based e-survey. The Pankey Institute is intent on staying in touch with changes in the profession. Our Web site, www.pankey.org, was just redesigned to make it easier for dentists and even patients to provide us with their comments.
Dr. Blaes: Chris, after 20-plus years as The Pankey Institute's Executive Director, you have certainly made your mark as a dental leader. That is a rare achievement for a non-dentist. Do you have any final words today about the profession?
Mr. Sager: Thank you for this question, because I do have something to say in that regard. When I became CEO of Pankey, I didn't realize how sophisticated comprehensive dental care truly was, even though I had spent 20 years affiliated with the profession.
I had been treated by dentists whose focus was the repair of broken or diseased teeth. They did not take the time to educate me about comprehensive treatment and the value of excellent oral health in the later years of our lives.
Now, I am an assertive advocate of an informed-consent policy that insists dentists inform their patients of the alternative to the "fix what's broken" option. Third-party payers aren't pricing their products to afford the dentist or patient compensation for comprehensive treatment, so we are stuck in the reparative loop.
At the Pankey Institute, we are helping dentists create practices that are succeeding in the comprehensive-care arena because they are very good communicators who are competent in the business aspects of professional practice. But most importantly, they are highly skilled diagnosticians who will assure their patients the opportunity of choosing an alternative to the usual and customary model. Comprehensive care is not a luxury for the few. With staged treatment, it is an option for the many of us who value our health.
Mr. Christian B. Sager has been the CEO of The L.D. Pankey Dental Foundation and Executive Director of The Pankey Institute since 1982, leading discussion on behavioral aspects of patient care and practice management. He has honorary membership in the American College of Dentists, International College of Dentists, ADA, and Florida Academy of Dental Practice Administration. As a lead voice for comprehensive dentistry, he frequently publishes articles and speaks at dental meetings worldwide. Reach Mr. Sager at (800) 4PANKEY (472-6539) or e-mail [email protected].