The most valuable continuing education

May 1, 2012
They say that college is wasted on the young. Most who enroll in college never really take advantage of the wealth of resources available ...

by Michael Cohen, DDS, MSD

They say that college is wasted on the young. Most who enroll in college never really take advantage of the wealth of resources available during their time on campus. So much to be learned, and yet, so much wasted. Most never experience the occasion again. However, we are fortunate that dental school provides a “second chance” opportunity.

In addition to conventional training, the one-on-one collaboration between faculty and students is, in many cases, inspirational — it can even be intoxicating! This is truly an advantage for those who recognize the value of seeking out this type of clinically interactive environment in practice.

For too many of us, this essential learning style ends when we leave campus. Most clinicians recognize the importance of dental continuing education, but do not know how best to educate themselves. Many pick and choose their continuing education from brochures that come across their desk, selecting what appears to be promising and hoping for the best. Selecting an educational pathway filled with the opportunity for clinical interaction is the most predictable way to improve yourself in this or any profession.

An essential strategy for professional growth

I began my practice feeling as though I had a great foundation upon which to build. The question became how to add to my knowledge base and hone my surgical skills in a solo practice setting. I thought as a specialist, helping dentists in my community elevate their diagnostic and treatment-planning skills by starting a study club would accomplish several things:

  1. It would provide the collaborative learning environment I was seeking.
  2. As the dentists in my community became more skilled at diagnosis and treatment planning through this type of continuing education, they would strive for higher quality care for their patients and I would become more involved as part of the treatment team.
  3. Participation in this type of group would make learning more enjoyable.
  4. This club could become a “university without walls” that could provide all of the resources that were available to us in dental school.
  5. A comprehensive curriculum could be developed (like a university) for individuals who did not have the luxury of being back in school full time.
  6. Most importantly, the club wouldn’t focus on bringing in guest lecturers to present “state-of-the-art therapies.” Although this would be part of the curriculum, the emphasis would be on the opportunity for members to continually learn from one another in a nonthreatening forum.

Focus on treatment planning

In my 30 years of practicing periodontics, I have come to the conclusion that treatment planning is one of the most challenging and demanding aspects of our job. Many factors enter into the decision-making process where case planning is concerned, including the patient’s expectations and financial commitment, the scientific possibilities and predictability, and our own clinical ability and input from the interdisciplinary treatment team. No two cases are truly ever the same.

An effective way to master this art is to establish a strong knowledge base from study club lectures and then test your true understanding of what is picked up in these presentations through participation in clinical treatment-planning workshops. For most cases, there are many treatment options that can lead to successful outcomes, and the exciting part is the case discussion among study club members during this process.

Study club philosophies

In my opinion, effective study clubs have three fundamental philosophies. The first is that neither ideal learning nor ideal dentistry can be attained by a random exposure to various techniques and treatment modalities. Rather, the highest and most beneficial knowledge comes from total case management — i.e., a true understanding of the role any given technique or treatment plays in the big picture.

The second philosophy is that we learn more by participation and clinical interaction than by observation. The focus of the curriculum should be on participation-based learning. Hands-on experience is the best way to fully understand and retain the concepts presented.

The third is the idea that learning with and from your peers in a structured and supportive environment is the most effective way to master the challenges posed by the dental profession. The study club is the perfect forum to incorporate aspects of clinical dentistry, biology, medicine, the behavioral sciences, and practice and financial management in a collaborative environment. This should include hands-on experience, as well as an appreciation of the big picture and how any given technique or treatment applies to the everyday practice of dentistry.

An interdisciplinary team approach

I have had a great run with my study club over the past 30 years. Many of the original members are still in our group, and we have grown to over 60 clinicians. The mainstay of our program has been comprehensive treatment planning and other sessions that encourage clinical interaction and the sharing of ideas. We have all benefited from the interdisciplinary team approach, which has been a natural evolution from the experiences that began way back in dental school.

Dr. Michael Cohen has authored various articles on continuing education, and has lectured nationally and internationally over the past 25 years. He is in the private practice of periodontics in Seattle, Wash. Dr. Cohen is the founder of the Seattle Study Club and the codirector of Great Blue Heron Seminars. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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