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Dental, medical, pharmacy students learn the meaning of teamwork at San Francisco clinic

July 10, 2017

By Kimber Solana

San Francisco — Once a month, University of California San Francisco students studying medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing and other health care-related fields arrive at the Mabuhay Health Center.

The center provides health care — from physical examinations and screenings to vaccinations and counseling — to elderly patients in the largely Filipino community of the South of Market neighborhood. During a clinic day, one of the UCSF faculty members overseeing the center noticed something striking.

“I realized that the dental exams were always happening at the end of a health screening,” said Dr. Sheila Brear, UCSF School of Dentistry associate dean, adding that there was little to no communication between dental students and the students from the other health care fields.

“I asked the other faculty members if we can integrate the oral health component in the health exams and huddles, and they were very open to it,” said Dr. Brear, who has been involved with interprofessional education — a teaching model that emphasizes a need for students from different health care professions to learn and work together to improve the quality of patient care — at UCSF.

This year, in January, the Mabuhay Center unveiled its new interprofessional model in creating a culture of teamwork among the students with the goal of improving patient care.

At least one dental student is assigned in a team made up of other students from other health care fields. This means, when a health coordinator is asking the patient questions it includes dental-related inquiries. “Previously, these questions were only medical-based,” Dr. Brear said. “Now, we can ask the whether they’re experiencing any dental pain or when was the last time they saw a dentist.” In addition, when a patient is undergoing a complete oral evaluation, the other students from other health care fields join the dental students in observation.

Photo of University of California San Francisco dental, medical and pharmacy students at Mabuhay Health Center
Teamwork: University of California San Francisco dental, medical and pharmacy students huddle June 10 after a patient screening at Mabuhay Health Center to discuss a patient’s health. The center, this year, unveiled its new interprofessional model in creating a culture of teamwork among the students with the goal of improving patient care. Each student is involved in the discussion, then they go back to the patient to present their findings and recommendations.


“They often don’t know what looks normal and not normal inside a patient’s mouth,” Dr. Brear said. Dr. Brear plans to add oral mucosal screenings as part of a training program to help other health care students screen for oral cancer.

Jennifer Cocohoba, PharmD, also a UCSF faculty member overseeing the clinic, agrees, saying her pharmacy students have benefited from the interprofessional education model — and dental students have learned from her students.

“I think many health professional students bring their assumptions about what other health professionals do, and are often surprised at what they truly do in their practice,” Dr. Cocohoba said. “Our students benefit by seeing first-hand some of the clinical activities that each profession engages in and they come away with a new appreciation for the knowledge that each other holds.”

For example, Dr. Cocohoba said, her pharmacy students get to observe the physical examination that the dental students perform and dental students observe the medication counseling that pharmacy student provide. “When a patient comes to the pharmacy with a complaint about their oral health, by observing the dental students and how they assess patients, the pharmacist may then be able to make a more informed referral or recommendation for an over the counter project,” she said. “Similarly, dental students can observe how a pharmacy student takes a medication history, and how medications can impact a patient’s overall health.”

The team of students can huddle after the screening to discuss the patient’s health and what could be leading to a particular pain or symptom, Dr. Brear said. Each student is involved in the discussion, then they go back to the patient to present their findings and recommendations.

It remains too early to tell whether this new model at the center has improved the care a patient receives. Dr. Brear said the team will put together an outcomes of care report. As for the patient, she said, “I don’t think it’s changed from their standpoint because they’re seeing our students and continue to receive the care they need.”

“Allowing students the opportunity to work in these interdisciplinary teams at an earlier stage of their training can demonstrate the possibilities, and potentially encourage students to seek out future professional opportunities that allow them to continue working on such teams,” Dr. Cocohoba said.