Practice Makes Perfect

On July 1, TUSDM embarked on a new pilot – though Assistant Professor Dr. Ruby Ghaffari would prefer another word.

“I would call this an initiative – I don’t like calling it a pilot,” she said. “I feel like we need to reinvent out of the box.”

 Pictures from the 4th Floor Orientation meeting – several team members were given Certificates of Appreciation for going above and beyond in making the project a reality.

The initiative she’s referring to is the creation of a new clinic practice model, centered on the fourth floor. Months in the making, the new model was developed to maximize efficiency in the clinic and foster improved patient service, student learning and faculty teamwork. A focus on how to incorporate the teaching of practice management principles into the curriculum in an interactive environment precipitated the initial discussion of the pilot.

As of July 1, the fourth floor has moved from a four-practice model to two practices. The faculty in both group practices (named Exeter and Fairfield) are overseen by the Senior Practice Coordinator (PC) Dr. Ghaffari and the Lead PC, Associate Professor Dr. Yun Saksena. Dr. Ghaffari, in conjunction with Dr. Mary Jane Hanlon, Assistant Dean of Predoctoral Clinic Administration, also oversee all the non-clinical staff across the floor, including the new position of Practice Manager, which handles business operations and staff. Together, they will lead a group of four PCs, as well as full-time, part-time and volunteer discipline-based faculty members to work together as a calibrated team. The team model, due to more fluidity and cross-training, will provide a more effective faculty-to-student ratio for seeking guidance, as well as standardizing the patient experience.

“It’ll be a challenge to get faculty all on the same page,” Dr. Saksena said. “But everyone on this project is so committed to making things better for our patients and students.  We’re coming together as a team. That’s what makes it so exciting.”

The goal is to eventually spread the new clinic model to all three predoctoral patient care floors in the dental school, once it’s been perfected. In addition to building a team environment for faculty, Dr. Hanlon said the new clinic model will improve and standardize internal processes, for a better student experience and better patient care. For example, the clinic’s staff participated in customer service training through Tufts Employee Learning and Development (TELD), and dental assistants are being trained to focus on materials management and waste.

“ Our hope for the fourth floor initiative is to first improve how we do things internally,” Dr. Hanlon said. “It’s about starting to improve our foundation.”

The biggest challenge is yet to come, as the clinic’s faculty and staff shepherds the new practice through its first summer, when the change is new and aspects of the project still need to be improved. To prepare for that, the clinic leadership and school administration met with students, faculty and staff on numerous occasions throughout the past academic year, to disseminate information about the clinic model as it developed, and answer questions and concerns about the change. Dr. Ghaffari said the feedback from all corners of the school has been invaluable.

“Our goal is to create a stimulating and nourishing learning environment, a holistic teaching atmosphere which should result in exceptional patient care,” Dr. Ghaffari said.

“We already create some of the best clinicians in the country,” Dr. Hanlon said. “So why not have the best run clinic?”