In the students' own words: what are the strengths and weaknesses of the dental school curriculum?

David Henzi, Elaine Davis, Roma Jasinevicius, William Hendricson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations


Dental students have little input into the selection of course topics and subject matter included in their dental curricula. Curriculum requirements are framed by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which has stipulated competencies and associated biomedical and clinical knowledge that must be addressed during dental school. Although these competency requirements restrict the variance of educational experiences, students are eager to share their views on the curriculum within the realm of their educational experience. The objective of this research project was to elicit the perspectives of dental students from a broad cross-section of U.S. and Canadian dental schools about their education. A total of 605 students (285 sophomores, 220 seniors, 100 residents) from twenty North American dental schools completed a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to communicate their perceptions of the curriculum. Students were also asked to provide their impressions of the overall quality of the educational program in an open-ended written format. The students' qualitative comments were then reviewed and categorized into key issues or themes. Resulting themes for each category of the Curriculum SWOT (C-SWOT) analysis were the following. Strengths: 1) clinical learning experience, and 2) opportunity to work with knowledgeable faculty. Weaknesses: 1) disorganized and inefficient clinical learning environment, 2) teaching and testing that focus on memorization, 3) poor quality instruction characterized by curricular disorganization, and 4) inconsistency among instructors during student evaluations. Opportunities: 1) develop strategies to provide students with more exposure to patients, especially early in the curriculum, and 2) opportunities to learn new technology/techniques. Threats: 1) cost of dental education, 2) students' concerns about faculty "brain drain," i.e., lack of sufficient numbers of dental faculty capable of providing high-quality instruction, and 3) questionable treatment of patients in the dental clinic as a consequence of pursuing procedural requirements. This report presents commentaries selected from 2,421 total responses that communicate students' perspectives related to C-SWOT themes. Students at seven schools in this study reported that they completed all or portions of the first two years of the curriculum in combined classes with medical students. Sophomore and senior students at these schools provided their thoughts on this curricular approach; these perceptions are also reported. Findings from this study are compared to results from a similar investigation of dental student perceptions conducted fifty years ago. We conclude that students participating in this study were positive overall about their learning experiences in dental schools, but identified several areas that appear to be problematic for many students at a variety of different schools including fundamental concerns about instructional quality in some areas of the curriculum. Academic program administrators in dental schools can use these findings to guide modifications that will enhance the overall dental education experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)632-645
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of dental education
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Dentistry(all)


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