Dr. Ramya Shenoy, Visiting faculty at College of Dentistry, the University of Iowa

Dr. Ramya Shenoy K , Associate Professor, Dept.of Public Health Dentistry had a visiting faculty appointment at College of Dentistry, Geriatric and Special Needs Program from October 12 – November 12, 2015.

November 18, 2015

The Geriatric and Special Needs Clinic at the University of Iowa, College of Dentistry is a comprehensive clinic where they specialize in serving the elderly and adults with special needs. The new clinic was funded through the Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation. The undergraduate students typically see four patients a day and work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. Dental hygienists deal with prophylaxis. A total of sixteen to twenty patients a day are seen in the clinic, which offers comprehensive care, radiographs, and nitrous oxide analgesia if needed. The clinic also has a specially designed fully accessible unit where they can treat wheelchair-bound patients. I was very impressed with this unit; if we had such a unit in India, it would benefit everyone: staff, students, and patients. The University of Iowa also offers a graduate level Geriatric and Special Needs Certificate Program, which is a one-year interdisciplinary program.

In addition, they also operate the Geriatric Mobile Dental Unit: A Model of Service and Education (GMU) is offered through the College of Dentistry. This national award-winning unit, established in 1979, serves populations in ten nursing homes in the surrounding Iowa City area. In addition to regular dental care, they provide hospice and homebound dental care. There they devise a rational treatment plan based on patient’s individual needs, such as psychomotor abilities, mental and physical health status, financial status, and drug regimes. During my time at the University, I was able to experience the GMU on a firsthand basis. On four separate occasions, we visited Pleasantview Nursing Home in Kalona, IA. Observing these visits showed me what is possible through such high quality geriatric dental care. The short drive from Iowa City to Kalona also gave me a chance to appreciate the beautiful rural Iowa scenery and to experience autumn for the first time. Dr. Cowen’s ability to stay energetic after following the hectic schedule at the nursing home is admirable. Before I began observing at the Dental College, I took a mandatory quiz on the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This is a good practice that needs to be followed in my country.

I was very impressed with the interactions between faculty and students at the University of Iowa, College of Dentistry. The senior professors serve as role models for the junior faculty. The College of Dentistry gives more emphasis to developing the students’ dexterity and takes an overall holistic approach. In India, the teaching style is didactic, where in America it seems to be more focus-oriented. At the University, the overall geriatric program is educationally sound and practically based. The students gain experience with solving dental issues not just reading about them in a textbook. The students are clinically well prepared and ask very precise questions of faculty members. I admired the personal touch that the students provide to the patients. The students truly go above and beyond to maintain and prioritize patient comfort while maintaining the patient’s dignity. As a side note, I noticed that the University of Iowa employs students to drive the Cambus as a part-time job. I believe such work helps students build their confidence and independence.

Throughout my month-long stay at the College of Dentistry, I observed the staff members and discussed treatment plans, ethical issues, and insurance plans. In my observation, I noted that the College of Dentistry provides sophisticated dental tools for the students to use, and the majority of students use dental loupes during the examinations. We do not typically use dental loupes in dental examinations in India due to their expense.

A major accomplishment during my stay in Iowa was the development of a student exchange program between the University of Iowa and the College of Dentistry at Manipal College of Dental Sciences (MCODS). Dr. Howard Cowen and Dr. Leonardo Marchini helped in the initial drafting of the curriculum for the student exchange program. Under Dr. Cowen and Dr. Caplan’s leadership, a student and faculty exchange program with a nominal fee was finalized. I hope that many other students and faculty will benefit from participating in this opportunity as I have.

Dr. Howard Cowen, Director of Geriatric and Special Needs Program has up-to-date knowledge, strong organizational skills, and a personal commitment to community dentistry unlike anything I have experienced before. He provides consistent and insightful guidance to the students. His positive energy and personal motivation should be an ideal to which students aspire. I am inspired! Dr. John Wells shared many tips that will be immediately applicable in my daily work. In addition to this, I had a good discussion with Dr. Jennifer Hartshorn on various treatment procedures.

I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity to observe at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry. This experience has positively influenced both my personal and professional development. Observing in the Geriatric and Special Needs Dentistry program has opened my eyes to the possibilities of different and innovative ways for faculty members to interact with students. I also gained valuable insights into the cultural differences between India and the United States. I hope to use such insights to empower dental students to be their best.