COVID-19: How it’s affected Dentistry at Manchester

During these unprecedented times, everyone across the world is having to just adjust to a new way of living. This is no different here at The University of Manchester where our teaching and learning is all being done online to help enforce the social distancing rules set out by the government. Below, fourth year Dentistry student, Sophia Signorini, explains how Dentistry students are making the most of this time and provides an insight into how our committed staff are juggling teaching and assisting on the NHS frontline…

The current global pandemic is a very raw and real experience that we are all living through. In such a difficult and testing time it is vital, now more than ever, to practice togetherness, to put things into perspective and to remain selfless.

Access to education is something we may be guilty of taking for granted and internationally, students of all age groups are encountering obstacles. These obstacles include the transition to online teaching, a lack of adequate internet/ laptop access and the inability to replicate certain aspects of the course from home.

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Pre-lockdown preparation 

In the week leading up to The University of Manchester closing its doors, many of us dental students were mid-treatment with patients. We were told to only manage emergency patients and before starting any treatment, we pondered “if we go into a “lock down, will the patient be safe?”. We were asked to refrain from starting work which may not be completed in a timely manner and which could put the patient in a worse situation if we enter a lock down; it was a clinical decision which was made on a case-by-case basis and provided insight into the dynamic situation which was to come.

Practical postponement

As a dental student, over half of my teaching develops from practical elements, whether it is a paediatric placement, having my own patient list in the dental hospital or being in the oral surgery and medicine department – it’s a key part of our learning which prepares us for working life. Every academic year the practical aspect of the course increases and being a 4th year, with only one more year until I qualify it has meant four months of practical experience will have to be compensated for in our final year, and for now we must focus our efforts on solidifying our theory.

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No volunteering abroad this summer

For years, University of Manchester dental students have partaken in sustainable volunteering projects globally, however this has also been affected due to the pandemic. Team Gulu is a project which takes place over the summer months in Northern Uganda where dental students work alongside Manchester’s medical students and local Ugandan dentists and medics to carry out outreach projects to remote villages. It is incredible to be a part of and lots of planning, fundraising and hard work goes into its success, with thousands of patients receiving emergency dental care, vaccinations, screenings and medical examinations because of it.

Having to cancel this project this year was the only responsible thing to do, ensuring we acknowledged the severity of the situation and kept public safety as our priority. We hope to return in 2021 and are empathetic with other medical and dental students across the country who were anticipating the summer months to go on ‘Elective Projects’ and ‘Exchange Programs’ all across the world.

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Online teaching and learning

As many other institutions worldwide, our teaching has taken on the ‘Zoom’ platform approach, with appropriate classes being replicated from home. This includes pre-clinical seminars where we discuss in small groups various practical topics and cases, for example, management of certain clinical emergencies, patient cases we have completed and our reflection on these and various standardised handbooks which outline the ‘gold standard’ for certain treatments.

With more free-time in our schedule now, a new discussion group has also been formed called ‘Journal club’ which takes place once a week. The idea is to discuss and critique interesting papers with our peers, facilitated by a member of staff so that by the end of the semester we have read a wide range of topics by means of scientific reviews, trials and clinical cases. This session further encapsulates something the faculty is very passionate about: Evidence based learning, which ensures we use the most up-to-date, accurate and reliable methods to treat our patients at all times.

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Staff on the frontline

Furthermore, with a vast amount of the faculty’s staff members practicing clinical dentistry or medicine, our usual lecturers have found themselves being redeployed to hospital settings to assist frontline healthcare workers in managing the influx of patients. To overcome this, we are being provided with last year’s lectures and updates to these will be recorded and uploaded separately. Moreover, those whom aren’t working in hospital settings are providing supplemental teaching resources across various topics- a clear reminder of the dedication that staff members are showing to the public and to students.

Across the globe, the devastating effects of this virus have shown to affect all aspects of everyday life with vulnerable groups experiencing the worst of its ramifications. People in conflict-ridden areas, those living in poverty or those without access to healthcare face the greatest immediate danger as the viruses’ effects ripple out into hard-hitting realities. I ask you to remind yourself of the luxuries we may normally take for granted: a support network, a stable home environment or accessibility to free healthcare and ask you to continue your support for those risking their lives, by staying at home.

To read more from our students about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their studies click here


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