In this series of four articles, DDU members from different backgrounds reflect on how 2020 changed the way they work, talking about their experiences of adjusting to our new ways of working and offering advice for the future from their own unique perspectives.
My name is Mark Ide. I am a professor and honorary consultant in periodontology and restorative dentistry and vice dean for Taught Postgraduate Education at King's College London (King's) Faculty of Dentistry, Oral and Craniofacial Sciences.
All aspects of my practice have been significantly affected in different ways by the coronavirus pandemic. For example, my clinical periodontal practice and restorative dentistry work have been massively impacted by challenges associated with aerosol generating procedures (AGPs), and the associated provision of care.
Much of our face-to-face teaching was stopped in the first instance, and then been replaced by, or blended with online teaching - both live and asynchronous - which has been embraced by staff and students. This has been combined with increased use of simulation, international collaborations and joint teaching, and the ongoing development of video. We now continue this but also have had students and patients returning to campus since September, so we are steadily returning to a blended 'hands-on' scenario.
We have invested heavily in new high fidelity haptics, which are now installed and being used by undergraduates. Our planned skills lab facilities update allowed us to use the old simulators, temporarily fitted to dental chairs in clinical areas which could not otherwise be used. This allowed us to maintain the operative skillset of our undergraduates, and we are supplementing this with further resource development.
We have had to (regularly) reorganise clinical staff and student timetables and treatment protocols, employ IT developments such as use of video and telephone consultations, and we are now working on reconfiguring ventilation in our larger clinical areas to facilitate more effective use of these. We ensure that the time staff and students are on site is fully utilised.
On a practical clinical level, we have introduced new equipment (we were due to replace our hand scalers anyway and now have these introduced for staff and students) alongside the now ubiquitous PPE. However things continue to change as we work our way out the situation - we have recently switched to electric micromotors to replace air turbines. This has greatly enhanced our potential to deliver care and teaching, and so we are now in another new timetable iteration. Our administrative and nursing teams have been impressively supportive in managing this.
In addition, the configuration of our building (most floors of the Faculty building are served by five high speed lifts which can only presently take five people each), and the constraints of distancing, have challenged all our activities. Looking on the bright side, though, when we are in, we are all much fitter as a result of using the stairs!
Without doubt some patients have had their treatment delayed or suspended, but we have continued to work to help and support those in most urgent need of care, and are seeing more patients every week. Some have managed to improve their oral health with minimal face-to-face and by ongoing online communications and advice.
It has been challenging, but not all of our experiences have been negative
Other areas of the university are also working differently. In research, the initial suspension of clinical studies and laboratory work has now been reversed to some degree, although we still have some challenges, which again are being minimised by imaginative working and organisation. We have also provided intensive support to undergraduate and postgraduate students both home and overseas, and to staff, all at university and faculty level, helping them deal with a range of challenges either unique to, or enhanced by, the recent situation.
There has also been the development and delivery of online exams with King's and with the Royal College of Surgeons of England at undergraduate and postgraduate level, building on our existing experience with distance learning programmes. We have had surprisingly few issues with this, again thanks to the dedication and hard work of all those involved.
It has been challenging, but not all of our experiences have been negative. Like lots of colleagues, we have taken this as a stimulus to rapidly move forward with things that were otherwise evolving, in terms of clinical and educational practice.
Dental professionals are inherently pragmatic, skilled and adaptable, and every team has people offering a range of diverse talents and abilities. My advice is that we have to use this and have a positive, optimistic approach, despite the day-to-day challenges we are facing, to try to work through as a team and come out stronger on the other side. Negative attitudes and approaches are ultimately less rewarding for oneself and for all, and supporting each other is critical.