Teething pains at UTech’s dental college
Last Wednesday, I telephoned Dr Irving McKenzie, dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology (UTech). I wanted to ask a single, straightforward question: Why was UTech bypassing accreditation of its degree programme in dentistry?
I was relieved by Dr McKenzie's unexpected answer. UTech is not actually avoiding review by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). A consultant has been hired to manage the long and expensive process. The first stage is self-assessment, which has already started.
So why didn't Dr McKenzie say this in his article, 'Jamaica produces world-class dentists', published last Monday? He didn't even acknowledge CAAM-HP, much less the need for accreditation. Instead, he announced that "the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision to ensure that graduates of the College of Oral Health Sciences are qualified according to world-class standards".
Dr McKenzie seemed to be proposing that the examination administered by the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment (CDCA), based in the US, was insurance enough. Mere accreditation of the academic programme by the unmentionable CAAM-HP didn't appear to count. But should it be either or?
Making his case for world-class standards, Dr McKenzie echoed the words of Professor Colin Gyles, deputy president of the University of Technology. In an article headlined 'Carolyn Cooper and the UWI cartel', published on April 28, Professor Gyles reported that "the CDCA is described as being like the GOLD standard for dental competency assessment".
The inflammatory headline of Professor Gyles' article is the work of a devilish Gleaner editor. The original was much more innocent: 'Protecting our nation's investment in university education'. The provocative headline sent a subliminal message. It was a reminder that I'd invited Vybz Kartel to speak at UWI. But, perhaps, as a teacher of literature, I'm reading too much into it.
THE REAL DEAL
UTech's last-minute decision to start the accreditation process is the real "world-class" deal. For example, the website of the American Dental Association (ADA) makes it quite clear that "though requirements vary from state to state, all applicants for dental licensure must meet three basic requirements: an education requirement, a written examination requirement, and a clinical examination requirement".
The website confirms that "the educational requirement in nearly all states is a DDS or DMD degree from a university-based dental education programme accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation (ADA CODA). References to accreditation in states' licensure provisions relate to the CODA and no other agency".
Dr McKenzie boastfully announces that "the people of Jamaica can be justly proud that the graduating dentists, having successfully passed this most objective method of assessment, are competent dental professionals that are eligible for licensure by the Dental Council of Jamaica and the licensing bodies of many states in the USA, countries in the region and elsewhere in the world".
This declaration is not entirely accurate. Passing the CDCA examinations is not enough. In order to be licensed in the majority of states within the US, dentists must have graduated from a university with an accredited dental education programme.
Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, the CDCA exam only tests clinical competence. It does not meet the written test requirement, as outlined by the American Dental Association. Are we in the Caribbean willing to settle for lower standards than those of the ADA?
Dr McKenzie is a busy, busy, busy man. He wears several hats. He's the chief dental officer in the Ministry of Health. In that capacity, he's a long-standing member of the regulatory Dental Council of Jamaica; and, on top of that, he's dean of the College of Oral Sciences at the University of Technology. It is rumoured that he also has a private practice in dentistry. But that cannot possibly be true. Those patients would really have to be very patient to see him.
Until quite recently, it seems, UTech appeared unwilling to begin the demanding process of accreditation by CAAM-HP. I wonder if the dean of the College of Oral Sciences inveigled the chief dental officer to approach the Dental Council of Jamaica to cut a deal with the CDCA as a way around the obstacle of accreditation! Sounds like a conspiracy theory.
Furthermore, Dr McKenzie seems to have forgotten which hat he was wearing when he asserted that "the University of Technology (UTech) has made the strategic decision" to ensure that its students could take the CDCA examination. As I understand it, the CDCA does not enter into contractual arrangements with teaching institutions, only with licensing bodies. So the CDCA recognises the Dental Council, not UTech.
In addition, both UTech and UWI dental students are eligible to take the CDCA exams. But, to date, the Dental Council has not officially informed UWI of this development. In effect, UTech got a head start. Their students have already taken a mock exam and are about to do the real-real exam later this month.
What I simply don't understand is why the minister of health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has not acted decisively to rein in Dr McKenzie. But based on his mishandling of the chik-V disaster and, more recently, the Riverton plague, I suppose it's too much to expect the minister to rise from his state of terminal impotence.