Can simulation really be the future?
Plans to deliver the FDT’s annual meeting – exploring the role of robotics, haptics, and blended learning – online are under way
he middle of March found me travelling to Kuala Lumpur as part of a Member of the Faculty of Dental Surgery (MFDS) examining team from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. It was touch and go whether to travel or not, but with more than 65 candidates prepared and committed to taking the exam and with no government advice against travelling at that time, we did not want to let them down. Discovering whilst out there that borders and airspace were closing all around us was pretty stressful, but we just managed to complete the exam and get flights home before Malaysia closed its borders. The following week the UK lockdown started.
As with many other organisations, there has had to be a lot of quick decision-making and complex planning. Everyone at the College is working from home and some staff have been furloughed. However, a lot of work took place to get as up-to-speed as possible before this happened. The Faculty of Dental Trainers (FDT) was able to process all the applications for Membership and Fellowship that had been received and email traffic remains busy. The FDT is continuing to hold meetings via video conference to conduct its business, and everyone is getting to grips with the new technology.
The focus of the College and the FDT to be there to support its members and all those working in the dental and surgical professions has been strengthened by COVID-19. The need for collegiality, to offer help, disseminate information and keep communicating is a priority. Very early into the crisis, the College offered free accommodation and food for NHS staff working in Edinburgh hospitals at its hotel, Ten Hill Place. By mid- April, the hotel had provided more than 1,000 free nights to medical and clinical staff battling the pandemic.
The pandemic has caused people to reflect on the vulnerability of long-held assumptions that we can rely on the things that we have taken for granted
The College has also been hosting a hugely popular weekly series of free webinars for both dentists and surgeons.(1) The number of registrations has confirmed a hunger for engagement and the need for up-to-date information about the virus. You can also access links to other webinars; find the latest information on dental examinations; obtain clinical guidelines for dentistry and read how the dental team is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is undoubtedly a very difficult time for all educators, teachers, clinicians and institutions in dentistry. Universities and schools are facing black holes in their finances with concerns that overseas students will not be taking up their places in the UK. Teaching is likely to be delivered remotely for at least the next academic session. This is challenging enough for non-clinical disciplines, but even more so for dentistry where there is close contact between the student, the patient and the teacher, not to mention the issue of aerosol production.
The FDT has already recognised that simulation and the use of haptics in dental training is an important development. Before the COVID-19 lockdown took hold, the FDT had already designed an exciting programme for its next annual meeting, which will debate ‘Educating the dental team – can simulation really be the future?’ The programme includes a line-up of leading speakers: Professor Alan McNeill on robotics; Professor Damien Walmsley on the use and selection of online teaching resources; John Lyne on teaching medical emergencies using haptics; Julia Armstrong on blended learning; Surg Cdr Graeme Bryce on whether webinars are linked to better clinical outcomes; and Dr Shahad Al Ramadhani on teaching using 3D-printed teeth.
Sadly, along with many other events planned for the autumn, the Faculty reluctantly took the decision to postpone this meeting that was to take place on 12 November. New plans for delivering the meeting will be advertised on the website at fdt.rcsed.ac.uk as soon as they become available.
There will be many changes to how we work going forwards and some of these changes may be permanent. The worries of the dental profession about how practices can operate in the future; whether they can survive the pandemic financially; the availability and cost of correct PPE; which clinical procedures are safe; what levels of infection control are required; when non-urgent dental care can restart; and when urgent dental care centres will close, are just some of the questions that are being widely debated in the press and on webinars. No one would dispute the need to uphold the safety of the public, but there needs to be clear guidance as to the way ahead.
Planning to reinstate examinations, conferences, events and other activities and to return to as normal a working routine as possible, whilst supporting all the staff, is ongoing. The quality assurance role of the College via its examination programme is important, allowing trainees to be able to complete their programmes, progress on to new posts and keep the workforce moving.
For the FDT and the College, the foreseeable future will mean more business, committee meetings and educational activities conducted online. However, this can come at the cost of losing some agility with communicating and the ability to settle issues quickly face-to-face. A lot of useful working happens before and after meetings and this is not so easy to achieve with online agendas.
I think that the pandemic has caused people to reflect on the vulnerability of long-held assumptions that we can rely on the things that we have taken for granted – like security, financial stability, socialising, shopping, sport, travelling, employment etc. and that it is not just health that can change on the turn of the dice. Now the news affects us all and there is no comfort that can be taken from this being something that is affecting others but not ourselves. It is closer than close to home. On a personal note, I have been unable to visit my mother in her care home since getting back from Kuala Lumpur. She was 102 on 7 May and it has been a sobering thought that I might not be able physically to see her again. Very fortunately, she is staying safe so far. My thoughts go out to all those who have been personally affected in all ways by COVID-19 and I wish everyone the very best for the future.
Sarah Manton is the Director of the Faculty of Dental Trainers
The FDT has already recognised that simulation and the use of haptics in dental training is an important development