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October 2000, Vol. 3 No. 5 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Apprenticeship in Postgraduate Orthodontic Training
Assistant Professor Kelvin Foong Weng Chiong
Department of Preventive Dentistry

As a teacher at the Faculty of Dentistry, I am faced each academic year with the utmost responsibility of grooming new postgraduate students and developing in them a love for learning. In the paragraphs that follow, I wish to share with fellow teachers my philosophy of training postgraduates for successful careers in Orthodontics.

I will always remember with fondness the two years that I spent at the University of Adelaide for my specialist dental training in Orthodontics under dedicated teachers. It was their love for learning and how they communicated this passion that have been instrumental in shaping my thoughts and beliefs on teaching. While at the University of Adelaide, I was an eager and enthusiastic novice learning from a well-known master of dental research in the true definition of apprenticeship. During the first eight weeks of the course, I spent much time and lost much sleep learning how to bend wires to match complicated printed patterns for seemingly inexplicable reasons. My former teachers were neither sadistic, nor did they demand unquestioning loyalty to their personality and/or work methods. Instead, they probed and pushed my young mind to the limits, and sharpened it in the process. They were more than teachers to me; they were mentors and facilitators of learning. I can now say with a great measure of thankfulness that those eight weeks of painful and bruised thumbs and finger tips have instilled in me a sense of precision and efficiency in wire work to move patients’ teeth into their desired positions.

The teaching and learning of Orthodontics, as in other clinical disciplines in Dentistry, are well suited for apprenticeship training for they take place in real life environments such as in the presence of patients or simulated through the use of clinical records. Apprenticeship in Orthodontics requires an expert, not just to transmit knowledge and foster understanding of key concepts, but to also build into the very character and soul of each student the ability and will to make the correct clinical and honest intellectual decisions in the provision of orthodontic care.

At NUS, postgraduate Orthodontic students undergo an intensive 3-year clinical training programme treating dental malalignment problems in children and adults. Students develop: (a) diagnostic skills, (b) the ability to provide treatment options and decide on optimal treatment plans, and (c) manual dexterity skills for moving teeth. Lest clinical findings and treatment plans become of little use, students also need to learn to communicate effectively with patients and/or their parents, recognising patients’ eccentricities and what motivates them to seek treatment.

Consequently in Orthodontic training, teacher-student interaction is extremely vital. The skills of diagnosis and treatment planning are honed through Socratic-style tutorial sessions during which students discuss their cases with the teacher. Questions are structured to help the students analyse dental problems comprehensively and explore all treatment possibilities. To sharpen their clinical decision-making skills, further questions are posed to make them think about possible outcomes with different scenarios. As students respond to these questions, they are challenged to evaluate their own answers. Teachers, as mentors, in turn share their experiences on how similar cases have been managed. Students are also encouraged to question the validity of the teacher’s treatment decision. Teachers handle students’ queries with deftness and conviction. Through this lively interaction, active learning takes place for both students and teachers as critical and analytical thinking are stimulated. Slowly but surely, students learn the finer points of Orthodontics over time.

Clinical apprenticeship is also vital for the student in learning how to work with patients who have different temperaments. As a novice postgraduate, I had the privilege of witnessing one of my former teachers handle a difficult parent of one of my patients who was demanding and extremely critical of my treatment. The composure and firmness with which he handled the recalcitrant parent not only reassured me, but also led subsequently to the parent relenting and apologising. I learnt several important lessons from this incident:

  1. Students, no matter how bright and capable they are, need affirmation, especially during the developmental years of their clinical careers. My teacher’s ability to communicate and reason with the difficult parent, and yet support the correctness of my treatment decision, boosted my confidence to continue working with the patient.

  2. The key to successful patient management lies in the need to communicate with patients and parents at all stages of treatment.

Despite the growing ease and spread of online learning in recent years, no computer can and should duplicate the personal involvement a teacher has in helping students learn. In fact, there is now a greater need than ever before for the human touch in students’ learning such that apprenticeship should play a bigger role in the 21st century. In my view, postgraduate Orthodontic students learn best higher order problem-solving skills, manual dexterity, and effective communication under the guidance of a teacher who instils confidence and gives direction. Thus, the true measure of a successful Orthodontic apprenticeship is when one observes in the life of our charges the expression of the skills and values gleaned from having been with a teacher who is both a mentor and facilitator of learning.

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Inside this issue
Organising Apprenticeship Programmes: Methods, Pitfalls and Optimisation
Setting Up the Department of Biological Sciences' Professional Placement Programme
Practical Training Scheme at the Departments of Building and Real Estate
The Applied Chemistry Professional Placement Programme
The Virtual Laboratory Platform as a Form of Internet-based Apprenticeship
Civil Service Internship Programme for Political Science Students
Internship for Arts Students in the Talent Development Programme ogramme
Apprenticeship in Postgraduate Orthodontic Training
Student Responses to the Pharmacy Practice Preceptorship Programme