Patient non-attendance: utilising clinical time

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In undergraduate dental or medical programmes clinical time with exposure to patients is limited. A priority for all those involved in the delivery of a clinical programme is to ensure that this time is used effectively and to maximum potential. Patient non-attendance is a reality, and developing organised activities to provide alternative learning opportunities is important.


We have developed a range of close-contact teaching and learning activities (CCTLs) for dental students to productively use patient non-attendance time. CCTLs are short, skills-based tasks that are directly observed and have structured assessment criteria. Used formatively, they are performed in the clinical environment utilising the materials, equipment and clinical staff usually available during the clinical session.


The CCTLs have proved particularly useful for early-stage clinical students, by developing understanding and skills, reinforcing protocols and promoting the role of the wider dental team in teaching. Students have welcomed these activities and engagement has been high. In addition to improving skills, they have proved helpful in familiarising students with direct observation, and have inspired peer collaboration and feedback.


The CCTLs have promoted opportunities for students to receive direct feedback, which may be difficult to deliver if a patient were present. Empowering students to lead on their own learning requirements also promotes the ethos of lifelong learning that will be fundamental to future professional development. Investment of resources to develop these activities has proved worthwhile, as we have found that CCTLs can complement and maximise the potential of clinical attachments.

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