Dental Health

Will Hong Kong’s solely dental diploma course be faraway from accredited checklist?

“I have noticed that some Legislative Council members plan to propose amendments to the internship arrangement,” health minister Lo Chung-mau said.

“The Health Bureau never shies away from upholding the quality of healthcare services in Hong Kong.

“We propose to introduce the internship arrangement as soon as possible, which is crucial to maintaining the professional standards and reputation of dentistry in Hong Kong. More importantly, it is central to safeguarding the well-being of our citizens.”

Lo added: “The early implementation of the internship arrangement is a matter of public interest, and also a matter of imminence.

“As a responsible government, we should proactively enhance the standard of our dentists to keep up with the times, rather than taking remedial measures only after incidents concerning patients’ safety arise.”

The university’s faculty of dentistry is ranked among the best in the world. Photo: Handout

Lo appealed to lawmakers and the industry to recognise the importance of the proposed internship arrangement and support its early implementation.

A bureau spokesman told the Post: “It would be the best option for students as they could work as an intern to gain experience while programme standards could be raised under the government’s proposal.

“Otherwise, the government will have no choice but to let the Dental Council deregister it, meaning students will have to pass a licensing exam after graduation.”

Some lawmakers said dental students had complained the amendments were “unfair” to them as they were not told about nor did not give consent to the requirement when they first enrolled.

Under the Dentists Registration Ordinance, HKU is the only university whose graduates are qualified to register once they are awarded a bachelor’s degree in dentistry.

Its faculty of dentistry is among the best in the world. Its dentistry programme took top spot in the QS University rankings by subject from 2016 to 2018. It fell to fourth in 2020, and hovered between second and third over the next four years.

According to council review reports issued in 2014 and 2019, the faculty of dentistry had failed to provide a complete record showing the clinical skills training received by its students. There was also a need to improve students’ clinical skills training and experience.

The spokesman said the council told authorities in November 2022 that the faculty’s follow-up efforts on the recommendations from the two reviews were unsatisfactory, and implementation of clinical training in the curriculum “was significantly inadequate”.

It had caused a “substantial variation” in the clinical experience of graduates in performing dental procedures, he said.

“The faculty was also unable to provide any evidence showing that all graduates had completed the required number of clinical practice cases for all essential dental procedures,” he said.

“Moreover, records presented by the faculty even showed that clinical experience of some students was severely inadequate.”

Some students had never performed certain dental procedures, he added.

The council told the government in February last year that it reflected “structural problems” in the bachelor’s programme’s clinical training, the spokesman said.

“As the issue on insufficient clinical experience among graduates has yet to be ameliorated, the [council] will seriously consider whether it will still be appropriate to continue accepting the HKU BDS programme as a recognised programme in the schedule to the ordinance,” he said.

“Should the programme be removed from that schedule, all local dental graduates will have to pass the licensing examination conducted by the [council], and those who fail to do so will not be able to become registered dentists.”

The bureau said based on the current legislative progress, the internship arrangement would be adopted for dental students graduating next year and onwards, adding that a trainee dentist would receive more than HK$30,000 a month.

The council expressed concerns about training on Tuesday.

“The council has concerns over inadequacies in the implementation of the programme’s clinical training, and the failure of the faculty to provide evidence showing that all graduates had completed the required number of clinical practice cases for all essential dental procedures and had acquired adequate clinical experience,” it said.

There were “imminent needs” to start the internship arrangement, it said. It expressed support for the amendment.

Lawmaker Chan Hoi-yan said she had mentioned in a radio interview on Tuesday that she “would not rule out considering proposing amendments to the arrangement” as it was “necessary to address the students’ concerns”.

“These dental students are also Hong Kong’s talent, who can also be recruited by foreign countries,” she said. “Their confidence in Hong Kong is also very important. I hope the government can handle the matter with caution.”

Chan said some students had told her HKU had been requiring students to intern at dental clinics to gain clinical experience, raising doubts over the Dental Council’s findings.

She urged the government to talk to students directly and convince them about the importance of introducing the internship arrangement.

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