One of the main objectives of the MalDent Project was to establish a BDS degree programme at the University of Malawi College of Medicine – now Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS). The curriculum was approved in 2019 and the first students entered the degree course in the Summer of that year. Since then, there has been a new intake each year and the course currently has the following number of students:
|BDS 0 (Foundation)||14||10||24|
|Total BDS students||42||51||93|
In February 2024, the new academic year will begin and a new intake of 20 Foundation Year students will enter the programme, bringing the total student number to 113. Furthermore, for the first time there will be students in BDS 5, the final year of the course, with the prospect of Malawi graduating its first ever home-trained dentists to join the healthcare workforce as interns.
In 2018, Glasgow hosted a visit by a number of senior colleagues from the University of Malawi College of Medicine, to discuss the establishment of what became the MalDent Project and to draft the programme grant application for Scottish Government, which was subsequently funded. This follow-up visit, from 26th November 2023 – 2nd December 2023 was aimed not so much at discussing curriculum content but focused on the logistics of delivering a Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree programme and the associated policies and procedures.
The KUHeS team arrived on time at Glasgow Airport and were whisked off in taxis to the Novotel in Pitt Street, very close to the Dental School – their base for the next week.
With help from Frank Bonner, the Dental School Manager and Yvette Hollywood, the Dental School Office Coordinator, we had put together a very full timetable for our visitors, which began on the Monday morning with a series of sessions led by colleagues in the Community Oral Health Section. Al Ross, until recently a Senior Lecturer at Glasgow Dental School but now an Associate Professor in Human Factors at Staffordshire University, joined David Conway, Professor of Dental Public Health, to provide an excellent presentation on Dental Public Health and Human Factors in the context of undergraduate teaching. This was followed by a session led by Lorna Macpherson, Emeritus Professor at Glasgow Dental School, on Malawi’s National Oral Health Policy and Implementation Programme. Lorna has played, and continues to play, a massive role in the MalDent Project, and I am especially grateful to her for covering so many roles when I was unable to engage with the MalDent Project over recent months on account of family illness.
The importance of Human Factors teaching in the education of healthcare workers is now well recognised and this first presentation provided many ideas for the BDS course in Malawi.
Viv Binnie next delivered a short presentation on teaching of communication skills, followed by an in-depth discussion. The teaching of many softer skills, such as communication, is now a key requirement of the General Dental Council in the UK and is equally relevant to the new BDS degree programme at KUHeS.
Immediately after lunch, Lorna and Peter gave an update on the recently completed National Child Oral Health Survey in Malawi. The data are still to be analysed and will be the subject of a future blog post.
Jessie is responsible for the teaching of periodontology to the BDS students at KUHeS and we were delighted that Shauna Culshaw, Professor of Periodontology and Immunology at Glasgow Dental School, was able to join by video-link for a session on both periodontology teaching and research possibilities. The latter could also link nicely with another large KUHeS / University of Glasgow partnership funded by Scottish Government: the Blantyre-Blantyre Project.
Students at Glasgow Dental School have to complete an elective project between Years 3 and 4 of the degree programme. Some students travel overseas and we would like to establish an exchange programme between Glasgow and KUHeS. Vivien Monteith, Clinical University Teacher in Orthodontics, leads the elective project programme at Glasgow Dental School and delivered a presentation with Andrew Paterson, who is already a key member of the MalDent Project team and a Trustee of Bridge2Aid. One of the challenges is ensuring that such exercises are equitable, with opportunity for students from Malawi to visit Glasgow as well as Glasgow students heading to Malawi.
Following the electives presentation, Neil Henderson, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Dental & Maxillofacial Radiology, gave an excellent talk on radiology teaching for dental students. Malawi is very short of trained radiologists and has none trained in dental and maxillofacial radiology. We will no doubt be returning to Neil for further support in the future.
Neil provided a clear overview of the sequencing of teaching in radiology for the Glasgow BDS students and also recommended up to date sources of information that would be of value to the students at KUHeS:
On the Monday evening we visited a restaurant that specialises in Vietnamese food. All agreed it was beautifully cooked and very tasty but we were very disappointed that the deep-fried ice cream that was offered on the menu was unavailable that night!
Tuesday kicked off with a session on University Teaching Quality Assurance procedures, led by Niall Rogerson, a core MalDent Team member, and Craig Mather, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Oral Surgery, who is the Quality Assurance Lead for the Glasgow BDS programme. Many of the processes followed by the University of Glasgow are potentially applicable to the new BDS degree at KUHeS.
Sadly, James Mchenga, the Academic Head of the KUHeS BDS degree had been unable to travel to Glasgow with his colleagues, because he had not gained a visa in time. However, thanks to the wonders of Zoom he was able to join us on-line for a discussion on the current status of the KUHeS BDS degree. This in-depth session informed the creation of an action list, which was augmented as the week progressed .
Immediately after lunch, Frank Bonner the Dental School Manager and his Deputy, Leigh-Ann Dragsnes, who is the Dental School Learning & Teaching Manager, gave an overview of Dental School administrative processes. The volume of administrative activity involved in running a complex clinical course such as a BDS programme is massive and if students are to have a good learning experience then a strong administrative backbone is essential. Over the years Glasgow Dental School has developed a very efficient and well-oiled administrative machine and there is much that is generalisable and applicable to the new course at KUHeS, particularly as the volume of students increases.
I then gave a demonstration of the Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme resources that are freely available to dental professionals and students worldwide, including in Malawi. This was followed by an excellent session and demonstration on Scottish Dental Education Online (SDEO) resources by Ziad Al-Ani, Senior Lecturer in Oral Biology / Glasgow Academic Lead for SDEO and Adam Wyroslawski, E-learning systems developer for SDEO. Ziad and Adam showed our visitors how these excellent resources for both staff and students could be accessed in Malawi.
Following this second very full day of activity, we relaxed in the evening at an Italian restaurant close to the hotel before retiring for the night.
On Wednesday morning we took a taxi up to the main University of Glasgow campus at Gilmorehil in the West End of the city. We were met by Professor Bill Cushley, who is Professor of Molecular Biosciences and Assistant Vice-Principal International. Bill has a great level of knowledge about the campus and its history which he generously shared with our visitors. During the visit they saw elements of the older parts of the University…
… and some of the fantastic new buildings that represent the ongoing campus development programme:
Following the campus visit, we headed back to the Dental School for a working lunch with Nigel and Vicky Milne of Smileawi. The MalDent Project and Smileawi have been working very closely together for a long time and Nigel and Vicky had both played major roles in the recently completed National Child Oral Health Survey in Malawi. There was a very useful exchange of views on which parts of the survey had gone well and areas which could be improved in any future surveys. Peter, Jessie, Annie and Blessings had all participated in different ways in the survey and it was a great opportunity for them to meet again.
Following lunch, Peter, Jessie and I had another online meeting with James Mchenga to discuss the priorities for the Flying Faculty visits planned for the first quarter of 2024. Whilst we were having that meeting, Blessings and Annie spent time with Deirdre Kelliher, our MalDent Project Finance Administrator. Like Lorna Macpherson, Deirdre has done a significant amount of extra work to cover my recent relative absence and I am very grateful to her for that.
The afternoon finished with a Q&A session with myself and the current Head of the Dental School, Aileen Bell, followed by a discussion on internal and external curriculum review, including the role of professional regulators such as the General Dental Council in the UK and the Medical Council of Malawi.
We were delighted that on the evening of the Wednesday, Aileen was able to join us for dinner. We are very grateful for the support that Aileen, the Dental School staff and the University of Glasgow itself provide so willingly for the MalDent Project.
On Thursday we all took the train to Edinburgh for some meetings with key stakeholders, including the Scotland Malawi Partnership. We were grateful to Stuart Brown, Chad Morse, Dorothea Nelson and Natasha Maluza who welcomed us to the Mandela Room at Edinburgh City Chambers for coffee and a very fruitful discussion about the MalDent Project:
In the evening, Mwapatsa and I met with Paul Garside and John Briggs, both semi-retired professors at the University of Glasgow, for discussions about a project of the Saint Andrews Clinics for Children (STACC) charity in Malawi. John is Chair of the Board of Directors of STACC and Paul is a Board member.
By chance, on the Friday morning the Dental School was holding a training session for staff involved in delivering outreach teaching for Glasgow BDS 5 students. Outreach teaching is led by James Donn, Clinical Senior University Teacher in Restorative Dentistry, and he kindly invited our colleagues from KUHeS to join in for part of the full day event. This not only provided some useful information but also demonstrated the importance of staff training to ensure consistency of teaching and assessment.
After lunch, we had a very useful discussion with Christine Goodall, the Lead for Dental School Admissions and Susan Johnston, Dental School Admissions Assistant. There is a fundamental difference between our two organisations in that the KUHeS BDS students are selected centrally whereas in Glasgow the Dental School runs its own admissions process. The importance of considering a wide range of attributes, not just academic ability, was stressed.
The formal sessions finished with a discussion led by Alun Scott, Clinical Senior University Teacher in Restorative Dentistry, about Graduate Attributes and Special Study Modules, followed by a meeting with Frank Bonner and three BDS Course Secretaries, Jessica Brewster, Claire Rodgers and Ashley Mcmillan, about course administration.
A final wrap-up session, reviewing the material covered over the five day meeting, began the creation of an action list to be followed by both the KUHeS and Glasgow teams in the forthcoming weeks.
In the evening, some of the KUHeS team met with UK relatives who had travelled to Glasgow, while others joined a meal at a restaurant in the West End of Glasgow, organised by our great friend and colleague Alex Mackay. That gathering also included Professor Geoffrey Kwenda from the University of Zambia, who is closely involved in the Lusaka Blantyre Blantyre Laboratory (@LUSAKABB) Project with KUHeS and the University of Glasgow.
We all awoke on the morning of Saturday 2nd December to the sight of overnight snowfall. Whilst this did cause some delays to the team’s respective flights home, all are now safely back in Malawi.
This was a very intensive visit which resulted in some very valuable learning and improved understanding for both the Glasgow and KUHeS teams. A significant amount of activity is planned for January and February 2024 in support of students and staff at KUHeS as they enter their new academic year. Some of the processes and procedures we have developed in Glasgow may be directly applicable in Malawi, but others will be less relevant at this stage of development of the course. We should be mindful of this and reflect upon a well known quote from Mao Zedong:
Now, there are two different attitudes towards learning from others. One is the dogmatic attitude of transplanting everything, whether or not it is suited to our conditions. This is no good. The other attitude is to use our heads and learn those things that suit our conditions, that is, to absorb whatever experience is useful to us. That is the attitude we should adopt.Mao Zedong