Methods: Data were collected with web-based surveys from 267 alumni/ae of a Midwestern dental school. One third graduated before 2001 (= older cohorts) when community-based education was largely unstructured, and the other respondents graduated after 2000 when a well developed community-based outreach program was in place.
Results: The evaluations of community-based dental education of older cohorts differed significantly from the evaluations of younger cohorts. For example, younger cohorts were more likely to agree that they preferred treating patients in outreach clinics compared to dental school clinics (5-point scale with 1=disagree strongly: 3.15 vs. 3.73; p<.001), that they improved their clinical skills in the outreach clinics (3.62 vs. 4.28; p<.001), and that they were exposed to different techniques and materials in the community clinics (3.45 vs. 5.04; p<.001) than older cohorts. Younger cohorts also had a more positive attitude concerning how the community-based education had shaped their professional behavior concerning treating underserved patients, and had a more positive attitude towards treating patients on Medicaid (3.00 vs. 2.17; p<.001) than older cohorts. Younger cohorts were more likely to treat patients on Medicaid (52% vs. 15%; p<.001) and with developmental disabilities (7% vs. 4%; p<.001) than older cohorts.
Conclusions: Well structured community-based education can introduce future dentists to providing care for underserved patients and thus shape their attitudes and professional behavior concerning underserved patients such as patients with SHCN, on Medicaid or from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Keywords: Behavioral science, Community-based education, Education research, Health services research and Teaching