Learning to look from different perspectives - what can dental undergraduates learn from an arts and humanities-based teaching approach?

F Smyth Zahra, K Dunton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


By its nature, clinical teaching involves supporting small groups of dental students at the chairside as they treat their own patients. Scaffolding their learning in this way enables observation at close quarters of the various stages of development from early novice, just commencing clinical treatment of patients, to those approaching qualification. The students' main concerns throughout are not primarily with the technical skills required, which they have already been taught in the clinical skills laboratories, but dealing with the complex realities and ambiguities of clinical practice; the 'hidden curriculum' of decision making, judgement calls, issues of communication and what it actually means to be professional. Yet, in an already packed curriculum little time is spent helping the students develop these higher order skills. In an effort to improve clinical reasoning and interpretative skills, many medical schools in the US and a number of leading medical schools here in the UK now incorporate arts and humanities-based initiatives into their curricula. This allows for a greater balance between the objectivity of evidence-based medicine and the pluralism and subjectivity of the arts and humanities, providing a more holistic, patient-centred education that promotes a tolerance of ambiguity. In this paper, we describe a pilot programme which sought to explore the value of this approach in the context of dental education, and share early indicators that balancing interventions of this type with clinical sciences can enhance dental students' capabilities in their professional and personal development. We conclude that in today's complex world we must educate not just for competence, but for capability and that the interdisciplinarity afforded by the 'clinical humanities' is both a promising area for further educational research and potentially a valuable addition to the curriculum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-150
Number of pages4
JournalBritish Dental Journal
Issue number3
Early online date10 Feb 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Feb 2017


  • Dental education


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