The dental therapy curriculum : meeting needs and challenges for oral health care in South Africa.
This study reviews the three-year Bachelor of Dental Therapy curriculum, which was introduced at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1980. The dental therapist was introduced to the health care system during the apartheid era, to improve access to basic dental services to disadvantaged sectors of the population. However thirty years later, this situation has not improved. Therefore the purpose of this study is to evaluate the dental therapy curriculum offered at this university, to determine whether it is able to produce graduates who are adequately prepared to practice competently, according to the scope of practice prescribed by the regulatory body, and to meet the oral health needs of the population. To conduct a comprehensive evaluation, it was necessary to evaluate the multiple influences on this curriculum. As a result, the Hicks model called Typical Influences on Curriculum was selected to serve as the theoretical framework. This resulted in the use of the mixed methods research approach. Pragmatism was consequently selected to form the philosophical foundation of this study due to the fact that it allowed for the combination of methodological tools to answer the research questions. The first question defined the role of the dental therapist in the health care system. Qualitative interviews with all stakeholders who are associated with this profession, in the context of the needs of the country, provided the answer to this question. The second question, on how the curriculum prepared its graduates to perform this role, was conducted by a combination of methods. The evaluation of the form and content of the curriculum, and the training facilities, were combined with the interviews conducted with students, graduates and academics, on their perceptions of the educational process and the competence of graduates. The third question about the perceptions of stakeholders on the appropriateness of training and clinical competence was established by qualitative interviews. This led to the development of the inferences and recommendations for this study. The overall inference was that the dental therapy curriculum did not produce appropriately-trained graduates to meet the needs and challenges of South Africa. This resulted in the development of a new curriculum evaluation model for health science education, which was considered to be an extension of the Hicks model. Recommendations were also made on how this model could be implemented with respect to the dental therapy curriculum.