Ras Al Khaimah College of Dental Sciences is looking to make its mark on the UAE's academic map.
Located 120kms north of Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah College of Dental Sciences is looking to make its mark on the UAE's academic map.
MED talks to its dean Professor S.R. Prabhu about the changing needs of dental education and why the college won't sacrifice academic quality for student volume.
We talk about professionalism, and ethics, but also how to run a clinic because that is a very important aspect of dentistry now.
As a new programme, the college only received accreditation from the government last year - how tough was that as a process?
We came up with the curriculum and presented it to the Ministry of Education. We had to show not just how we would deliver the academic side, but how we would meet funding and infrastructure requirements.
Once we had presented these documents, they appointed three people from the US to come and inspect us. They went through the documents and, after interviewing us, recommended a few changes in the programme before the Ministry approved the course.
They made minor recommendations to the sequence of the courses and also to the building requirements for the new hospital and we attended to all these points.
Did the suggested changes go smoothly?
All these things take time and the Ministry was not able to give us accreditation until about 15 days later than planned, and then it was Eid al-Fitr, so we had to start a month or so late.
Normally these courses start in September, but we didn't start till October, so we had a bit of a recruitment problem. We were allowed to take 50 students in the first year but, since we were delayed, we couldn't advertise the course until later than other institutions.
We were not able to get enough numbers and we were only to take 16 at that point in time, but we are quite hopeful that we will have all 50 for this upcoming academic year.
We did receive 119 applications, however, [but] we could only receive 16 due to our stringent academic requirements.
How do you create a programme from scratch, or did you use an existing template?
It is all our work, but we have adapted a curriculum that has strong a leaning towards American courses: although, it is a BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) and not a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery).
It is a five-year course followed by a one-year internship. At least it is one year for those who want to practice here, as that is what the Ministry of Health requires. Other countries have other requirements.
We believe we have taken into consideration every aspect that is needed to produce a competent dentist - not only for the region, but internationally too.
You state that one of the college's main aim is to "meet the oral health needs of the United Arab Emirates community" - how underserved is the nation currently?
I do not have figures as to how many dentists there are in the UAE, but I imagine that there are certainly more than 1,500. The WHO states that there must be one dentist for every 2,000 and, considering that, I am sure they still need dentists.
Anyway, most of those who are trained here are expatriates - amongst the 16 we have, nine different nationalities are represented. I understand that in Ajman and in Sharjah there are a lot of students from across the GCC and a sizeable number from Iran.
They get trained and then they go out. The locals that are trained and settle down - that number is relatively small. There is a demand for dentistry here as people are becoming more and more dentally conscious.
There is certainly potential for more dental education in the region.
What sort of relationship do you have with other dental institutions in the UAE? How has the arrival of Boston University impacted on the academic community?
We have started talking to each other and one of my priorities is to extend our goodwill to other universities in the interest of the UAE. There are plans to have some sort of collaboration, but we haven't decided what that will be yet.
Boston University is most welcome in the UAE. Candidates from the UAE who are accepted for this now don't have to go all the way to Boston - and even with the university in Boston they have a limited number of places.
They get competition for places there from across the world, so now there are more opportunities and this region gets the benefit.
It also gives people like us a boost, because when our graduates come out then we hope that some might end up in Dubai doing Boston University's course. We would love to see that so we could know how good our training has been.
The dental industry is constantly evolving - how do you decide what skills are vital to practice, and thus to the curriculum?
Implantology is becoming increasingly popular as people are able to afford it more. It has become very important for a dentist to know about. Aesthetic dentistry, too, and the techniques you can use to improve one's smile is now a major area.
As people's lifespan has increased, you have a lot more chronic disease and you have to be able to treat medically compromised patients.
These recent developments in dentistry have all been incorporated into our curriculum and we have been looking at how the international community has been integrating them. We also include practice management in the course.
We talk about professionalism, and ethics, but also how to run a clinic because that is a very important aspect of dentistry now. It never used to be included, but is essential now.
It is not just good enough to train them to diagnose and treat the patients but we need to make sure the patient gets service that they find satisfactory.
Quality dentistry relies on the support of other dental staff - do you have any plans to extend your programmes past the BDS?
We have plans to start courses for dental hygienist and dental technicians within the next five years. The role of dental hygienist is very important, but I don't think that has been realised here. Like nurses, I'm sure dental hygienists will soon be in great demand.
The role at the moment is not as prominent as in the West, but it is catching up and I think will do so quite fast. Once we are established we would also like to start introducing postgraduate courses.
To start postgraduate courses, one does not actually have to wait for the first batch of students to graduate first. We could, depending on the circumstances, begin the postgraduate courses before the undergraduates are finished their studies.For all the latest health tips & news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.