Attitudes of oral hygiene and dental therapy students regarding the introduction of community service.

Bhayat, Ahmed
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Introduction: Compulsory Community Service (CS) for health professionals has been introduced in South Africa since 1997. Some of the aims for its introduction were to: 1) address the maldistribution of health service providers, 2) prevent qualified health professionals from emigrating and 3) improve clinical skills and knowledge of newly qualified medical graduates. The Oral Hygiene (OH) and Dental Therapy (DT) professions have as yet not been included in the performance of CS. However the Department of Health (DOH) is planning to introduce CS for these groups of health professionals in the near future. The role of the oral hygienist and dental therapist in South Africa (SA) cannot be over emphasized. Given the high caries levels, low oral hygiene education levels, large unmet oral health needs and the preventative approach of the DOH at all levels, the oral hygienist and dental therapist can provide invaluable human and technical resources that are currently required to address these concerns. Aims: To assess the attitudes of OH and DT students registered during 2004 at the five dental schools in South Africa regarding the introduction of CS. Objectives: 1) To obtain the demographic data of the OH and DT students, 2) to determine whether their current training programme prepares these students for CS, 3) to identify the provinces in which the OH and DT students would prefer to be placed for CS and 5) to identify the different types of professional activities that the OH and DT students would like to perform whilst completing CS. Methods: A self administered questionnaire was jointly developed between the Kwa- Zulu Natal Department of Health and the Division of Public Oral Health at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. The questionnaire was sent to all OH and DT students who were registered at each of the five dental schools in SA during 2004. Results: There were a total of 163 students (68%) who responded to the questionnaire. Of the respondents, 109 (70%) were OH students and 54 (64%) were DT students. There were 132 (81%) females and 31 (19%) males. The average age of the student’s was 21 years (17-37; mode 19; median 20 and SD 3.2). There were 59 (36%) Whites, 53 (33%) Black, 31(19%) Asian and 18 (11%) Coloured students. The majority of OH students (63%) were against the introduction of CS. There was a significant number (p<0.05) of White students who were registered for the OH degree that did not want to perform CS. A significant number of respondents (p<0.05) felt that they were adequately trained to perform all the necessary duties that may be required of them during their CS. Most of the respondents chose Kwa-Zulu Natal (26%), Western Cape (26%) and Gauteng (22%) provinces respectively as their first choice province for carrying out their CS. The majority of students (p<0.05) chose their resident province as their first choice province in which they would prefer to perform their CS. Students indicated a preference to perform oral health promotional activities (56%), health educational activities (21%) and clinical work (18%) in their CS programme. Conclusion: The majority of DT students supported the concept of CS. This was in contrast to the OH students where less than half of them supported its introduction. Overall, most of the students chose the more urban provinces (Kwa-Zulu Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng) to complete their CS.
Student Number : 9001367H - MPh research report - School of Public Health and Oral Health Sciences - Faculty of Health Sciences
oral hygienists , dental therapists , compulsory community service