The Value of Service Learning in Teaching Oral Medicine: An Initiative Teaching Model in Oral Medicine at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry

Geist, Shin-Mey Rose, Pamela Zahler, Janice Wheeker, and James Geist

Traditional Oral Medicine courses at the University of Detroit Mercy consist of didactic classroom lectures, literature reviews, and self-critiques on students‟ dental management of medically complex patients in the third and fourth years. Even though our Oral Medicine courses emphasize case-based learning, students still exhibit gaps in the knowledge of the special dental care needs of patients with systemic diseases. We hypothesize that this is largely due to lack of authentic learning. In an attempt to narrow the gaps and better serve these patients, we initiated a hospital based Oral Medicine Education experience in the format of Service Learning as part of the Oral Medicine courses. The objective was to determine if authentic learning experiences would lead to improved understanding of various medical conditions and their impact on oral health care.

Students were assigned to hospital educational centers and were required to observe patient treatment. They were instructed to interview patients about their diseases while providing oral health education to the patients. We compared the results of the final examination given at the end of the Oral Medicine courses with the results of the final examination in the previous year, when there was no Service Learning experience. A ttest was performed to evaluate the significance of differences in student performance on these exams, with a significance level set at p = 0.05. The class average score on the final examination in the previous year was 77.00%, with a standard deviation of 3.64. The class average in the year of the service learning program was 85.22%, with a standard deviation of 3.12. There was a significant increase in exam scores for the class with the Service Learning experience (p = 0.04). We conclude that authentic learning experiences with medically complex patients in hospital settings enhanced the students‟ knowledge and comprehension of Oral Medicine.