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Letters: Use live patients for board exams

May 16, 2016 The idea that using live patients for board exams is unethical is absurd. Dentist candidates are screened and approved by their dental schools before they can take the board exam. If their dental school education was adequate, they will be prepared. But school approval should not be sufficient to actually license a dentist for practice. Dentist candidates need to treat live patients in a real-life setting. Yes, it is a one-time exam and they must perform under that pressure. But that is what real dentistry is all about.

The alternative of letting schools license dentists is problematic. There is intense pressure on the schools to approve students simply because the students have spent so much money and invested a significant amount of time. The schools know that lawsuits will occur if they hold back students, even those who lack proficiency. Standards will be lowered. Is that really what we want for our profession?

Patients for the dental boards know what is going on. They are no different than the patients being treated in dental school clinics. A student dentist is performing the task, and they have agreed to that treatment. Do we consider that use of live patients unethical?

The argument that we must change to become more "modern" lacks merit. A practical test is a practical test. It is best to use actual live patients when testing a dentistry skill set. Similar arguments that patients and assistants are paid also ring hollow. So what? That is simply the cost of doing business. What should matter is selecting for competency. As the candidates are approved by the schools before they take the exam, this should not be a problem. So why all of the handwringing? The dental profession should continue to require live patients for dental boards. It is the only accurate way to evaluate a dentist's true ability to perform the minimum tasks necessary for the practice of dentistry.

Norm Rosene, D.D.S.
Chico, California