By. Courtney Lavigne, DMD, FAGD
In the age of technology we are increasingly a population of text-driven, email-laden, computer-savvy persons. Dentists are getting their continuing education online. A simple “YouTube” search can land you visual instructions on how to conduct a new procedure in private practice. We’re scanning and milling more than impressing and pressing. What does this mean for dentistry as we continue into this age of technology?
Now, more than ever, human connection is of paramount importance. Though communication may be more accessible, new methods of communication can’t (and hopefully won’t) replace what can be gained from face-to-face, in-person learning. An email can’t get a general dentist on the same page as the treating orthodontist the same way moving articulated models can when the two are sitting in the same room. Discussions in online forums can quickly answer questions, but won’t stimulate the same excitement and advancement that a study club will.
So how in the busy age of technology do we continue to learn as dentists and technicians in a collaborative method? Here are three ways to keep group learning alive in our field.
- Study clubs. This has been one of the most impactful ways of learning for me. It’s a once-a-month guaranteed collaborative effort where I’ll learn something new, review something I’ve forgotten, and have the opportunity to bring a case or two that I’m stumbling over to other dental professionals for feedback. I’m in a Spear Study Club with some of the best and most seasoned clinicians in my area. There’s always a module highlighting a difficult angle of dentistry. More than that though, it’s an opportunity to bring the highs and lows of the workweek to other professionals I trust to seek advice. Whether I’m struggling with something clinical, or dealing with something business-related, I know I’ve got a few hours to pick others’ brains in a way I can’t anywhere else. And let’s be honest, there are some questions you just don’t want to ask in a public forum on the internet!
- Small group learning. I don’t know about you but there is something about getting my hands dirty that makes retention so much easier and more enjoyable! While I definitely incorporate online learning for its convenience and accessibility, things always hit home the hardest when I’m in a room with other like-minded individuals, learning and doing. For me, this might mean taking a workshop (or mentoring one as a Visiting Faculty member) at Spear Education, the hands-on workshops at the AACD annual meeting, or local meetings with the New England chapter of the AACD. Some of my greatest friends have come from these experiences, and most certainly the majority of the most impactful learning. Best of all, once you meet someone face-to-face in a small group environment, they are likely only a text-message away for that next stumbling block you hit in the office!
- Case collaboration. I’ve learned through trial and error that the success of a case is directly dependent upon getting on the same page as the other professionals impacting the case. Whether that’s your surgeon, periodontist, ceramist, dental technician, dental laboratory or orthodontist, the more contact that’s made, the more successful the outcome. My specialists and I use Facetime on our computers to conference in when we can’t meet in person. My ceramist and I will send files via Dropbox prior to having a phone conversation. I try to get together in-person with my specialists to review larger cases once a month or so. The ability to sit down in the same room, look at an articulated case under different sets of eyes is invaluable. I not only have better end results, but I also learn along the way. There isn’t a time I’ve sat down with my periodontist or orthodontist without learning something new about their training and perspective.
So in the age of technology, we can certainly use it to our advantage for communication and accessibility. But it’s not a replacement for human interaction with fellow professionals, teachers, co-workers and friends. Find a way to implement technology in a way that enhances your ability to be your best, rather than one that detracts from your current systems.
Courtney Lavigne, DMD, FAGD, has degrees in biology and theology from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and received her doctorate from the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. She is a solo practitioner in Wayland, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. She is a contributing author and Visiting Faculty member for Spear Education, a board member of the Affiliates Committee for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and a board member of the New England Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. She has received fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry as well as the Pierre-Fauchard Academy and in the process of Accreditation through the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.