The Student Experience at UBC Dentistry: An Overview


While providing an excellent education is a given at any institution of higher learning, the notion of enhancing the student experience—one of the three main themes in UBC Dentistry's strategic plan—is actually a fairly new concept. If learning is approached from the student's perspective, not only will the education be excellent, but the entire experience of dental school, from application to graduation, will support and reinforce the learning. UBC Dentistry has focused on four main areas designed to "enhance the student experience".

Top-Notch Educational Facilities. The introduction of our amazing oral health centre, the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre, as the hub of patient care and clinical learning raised the quality of our facilities to match that of our students, faculty, staff and programs. Add to that top quality small-group learning, lecture and lab facilities shared with our partners in Medicine, our new Dentistry Department in the Diamond Centre of Vancouver General Hospital, and our soon-to-be-completed computer learning centre, adjacent seminar rooms and flexible study space in the venerable John B. Macdonald building, and we've created a learning environment that reflects the Faculty's commitment to offer the best experience possible for our students.

Committed Student Services. UBC was one of the first dental schools in Canada to offer a student services office in the faculty, dedicated to easing the transition into, through and out of the DMD program. From our Admissions Open House that allows applicants to make an informed decision about coming to UBC, to counselling referrals, to tax clinics and time management seminars, to information about practice opportunities, Student Services provides a constant source of support in a challenging academic environment. As two examples, students may participate in our mentorship program which, in partnership with the BC Dental Association, matches students with experienced dentists, or our Summer Student Practitioner Program which, in cooperation with the College of Dental Surgeons of BC, allows DMD students to experience private practice in the summer between third and fourth years under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

Excellent Teachers. As a reflection of the increased recognition of the importance of good teaching nationally in dental education, the Association of Canadian Faculties of Dentistry began co-sponsoring a national award for teaching excellence in dentistry in 2001. In the eight years since the award was inaugurated, it has been given to a UBC faculty member five times. Also, since 2001, the faculty has created over 20 slots for dentists who've proven themselves as good teachers to take on full-time roles in all four years of the DMD program. Recognizing that many professors have focused on achieving their own high level of education, without necessarily learning the art and science of great teaching, UBC began offering a certificate program in teaching and learning in higher education for university professors, and Dentistry has among the highest per capita participation on the UBC campus, with 16 Dentistry faculty members having completed the program, as well as other Dentistry faculty who have completed master's degrees in education. As further evidence of the importance of the scholarship of teaching and learning in the faculty, we are in the process of appointing an educational specialist to lead collaborative educational research and ongoing faculty development of teaching skills.

Innovative Curriculum. UBC is one of only a handful of dental schools in North America to use problem-based learning (PBL) as its primary pedagogy. The focus on student-centred, small-group learning addresses the learning of foundational knowledge in a clinical context, while introducing students to equally important skills in the areas of communication, self-directed learning, problem-solving and critical analysis. In a recent study,1 dental graduates of a PBL program were rated equal to graduates of traditional dental program grads in terms of clinical skills and better in terms of patient communication, critical thinking, independent learning, small group performance and teamwork skills. Our Dental Hygiene Degree Completion Program was a first in Canada, offering online degree courses to dental hygienists around the world. Our new campus-based option offers the first competency-based dental hygiene degree program in Canada, with educational partnerships between dental and dental hygiene students. Innovations continue with the development of electives for fourth-year dental students, including opportunities to address access to care issues at home and abroad.

The development of a student-centered educational program based on excellence in facilities, support services, teachers and curriculum, is a process, not a product, and UBC prides itself on committing the resources necessary to continue enhancing the student experience.


Dr. Joanne Walton is associate dean, Academic and Student Affairs, and professor of prosthodontics at the faculty of dentistry, University of British Columbia. Email:


  1. Thammasitboon K, Sukotjo C, Howell H, Karimbux N. Problem-based learning at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine: self-assessment of performance in postdoctoral training. J Dent Educ. 2007; 71(8):1080-9.

Read more about enhancing the student experience at

Top-Notch Educational Facilities

The Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre

The Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre at the University of British Columbia uses state-of-the-art technology and an innovative architectural design to create a sophisticated, efficient space for learning, community service and research. Read more

Committed Student Services

A Peer-Facilitated PBL Pilot and PBL in the Admissions Process

A pilot project taking tutors out of the facilitative role makes students fully responsible for their own learning. Results look promising. And, an orientation to problem-based learning (PBL) in Dentistry's two-day Admissions Open House prepares successful applicants. Read more

Community, Culture and Practice: A DMD Student in Haida Gwaii

Trevor Lake (DMD 2009) had the opportunity to do an externship in Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) through the UBC General Practice Residency Program. In his words: “This experience felt like we were finally putting the things we had learned at UBC into action. One of the main reasons I got into dentistry is that I wanted to be able to provide health care to people in need." Trevor now practices in rural British Columbia. Read more.

Portrait of a Dental Hygiene Student as a Leader

Pricilla Ojeda (BDSc 2011) is on her way to an exciting career in dental hygiene. But it is clear that she will reach high and far beyond basic practice—because of her passion to serve. While educators debate whether leaders are born or taught, Priscilla exemplifies what leaders do—they lead, and in Priscilla’s case she leads in many areas. Read more.

Oral Medicine Specialist Now Grad Student Fights a Deadly Cancer in South Asian Populations

Dr. Ajit Auluck, (PhD candidate), is a prolific research author, with 64 publications since graduating from an oral medicine specialty program in India in 2005. Oral cancer is the major focus of Auluck’s research. “Students are reflections of what opportunities and guidance their supervisors provide, and the philosophy of Dr. Zhang allows me to develop as an individual, independent researcher in new areas,” Auluck says. Read more.

Biochemistry PhD Enriches DMD Experience for All

When Ersilia Coccaro (DMD 2012) started dental school at UBC two years ago, she was nearing completion of her graduate studies in biochemistry at the University of Alberta. Now, having recently defended her doctoral dissertation, she is excited at the prospects for her future—as not only a researcher, but also a practising dentist. Read more.

Excellent Teachers

Award-Winning Faculty and Students

UBC Dentistry's faculty, students and alumni are no strangers to the podium. Local, national and international organizations have regularly recognized their varied achievements in education, research and community service. Read more.

The 3M ESPE – ACFD National Dental Teaching Award is presented annually to a faculty member who, in the opinion of his or her students and peers, is an outstanding teacher and displays exceptional interest in the learning needs of students. The award has now been given eight times, and four of the previous winners have come from the UBC faculty of dentistry. Read more

Learning Theories in Education

Being an excellent teacher also means being an excellent learner. Dr. Karen Gardner, clinical assistant professor, is passionate about learning theories in education. As a scholar on the subject, she is involved in UBC's Peer Review Program (promotes instructional development and professionalism in teaching across UBC) and Teaching and Academic Growth (TAG) which fosters quality teaching and learning across the university. Read and watch Dr. Gardner discuss her cross-discipline research about the use of PowerPoint for teaching based on Cognitive Load Theory, Multi-media Learning Theory, and Visual Learning Theory (VLT).

Points of View: My Role and the Student Experience

From simulation training, CAD/CAM technology and implant modules to learning-centred environments, community service learning, and professionalism, read what several members of the faculty say about their teaching area in the DMD curriculum and particular contribution to enhance the student experience. Read more.

Innovative Curriculum

Problem-Based Learning—Classical Antiquity Comes of Age

The UBC DMD curriculum makes extensive use of problem-based learning (PBL), a pedagogy that prepares graduates to use critical and analytical thinking to assess, diagnose and manage complex cases. Throughout their careers, UBC dental alumni will utilize these skills to significantly benefit their patients. Read more.

Small Groups and Inquiry Changed My Approach to Teaching and Learning

Professor and dean of Dentistry, Dr. Charles Shuler, asks: "So what does a new faculty member do to start teaching an entire course at a new university while also balancing the requirements of building a program of research?" Read and watch what he has to say about a small-group, inquiry-based pedagogy and its impact on student learning.

Writing and contributions by Terry Wintonyk, UBC Dentistry