By Kate Hunger
Perching on stools and twisting into awkward positions for long stretches of time while treating patients can lead to musculoskeletal injuries for dentists. Those injuries are sometimes so problematic they lead dentists to retire from practice.
An interprofessional project involving the Departments of Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy and the School of Dentistry seeks to address the problem of work-related musculoskeletal injuries among dentists by helping dental students learn how to avoid injuries while they are learning the practice of dentistry.
“It creates a collaboration and a partnership between the programs to attack a common enemy—risk factors that cause musculoskeletal disorders,” said Associate Professor Kimatha Oxford Grice, OTD, OTR, CHT.
Dr. Grice and Associate Professor Ricky Joseph, Ph.D., OTR, both of the Department of Occupational Therapy, and Michael Geelhoed, DPT, OCS, MTC, associate professor and director of clinical education in the Department of Physical Therapy, are co-principal investigators on the project, which was funded by a seed grant from Linking Interprofessional Networks for Collaboration (LINC) for which Juanita Lozano-Pineda, DDS, MPH, associate professor and associate dean for external affairs for the School of Dentistry, served as the principal investigator. The project grew out of an interprofessional collaboration between the School of Health Professions and School of Dentistry, Dr. Lozano-Pineda said.
The project gives occupational therapy and physical therapy students real-world practice, educates dental students on the benefits of receiving occupational and physical therapy, and provides an opportunity for greater interprofessional understanding among the professions.
“Participating in the IPE activity gave me the opportunity to talk with dental students not only about their chosen profession but also about their views on the physical therapy profession,” said Corey Dole, a second-year physical therapy student who appreciated the chance to practice his skills assessing and treating patients.
In the first stage of the project, first-year dental students receive lectures from occupational therapy and physical therapy faculty on ergonomic principles and exercises to help prevent back and neck pain. The first-year dental students also participate in a pre-clinical lab on ergonomic principles with occupational therapy students in the fall and receive physical therapy evaluations from second-year physical therapy students in the spring.
In the second stage of the project, second-year occupational therapy students observe and evaluate third-year dental students as they treat patients in the clinic. The occupational therapy students provide written assessments of how well the dental students follow the ergonomic principles they have been taught and provide recommendations and feedback as needed.
“The way we designed it is to have the students work alongside each other so they can learn from each other,” Dr. Lozano-Pineda said. “This was all didactic material that was being taught separately to these students, and this was an opportunity for us to enhance the learning experience and have them learn from each other as the information was being applied.”
The project was a top-four finalist among 18 innovation projects submitted from across the UT System to the 2021 University of Texas Kenneth I. Shine Academy of Health Science Education Conference, which was held in February. In addition to being presented virtually at the Shine Academy conference, the project has been presented at three other conferences since October, including the 2021 American Dental Educational Association Annual Session & Exhibition, the American Physical Therapy Association Education Leadership Conference, and Nexus Summit 2020.