Update from Dean Garcia

Sep. 28, 2020

I presented our accomplishments as well as our institutional response to the pandemic to the Nevada State Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents, Health Sciences System Committee on September 11, 2020 (watch the entire commttee report here). I also extended a personal invitation for each regent to visit for our facilities and see firsthand the incredible work we do every day, and witness the efforts needed to conduct education – both in classrooms and in clinics.

One of the points that seemed to capture their attention centered on dentists as being among frontline healthcare providers. As an academic dental institution that operates an outpatient healthcare facility – “dental hospital“– we continued to take care of patients in need during the pandemic. 

Our faculty exhibited incredible capacity to change on a moment’s notice to support the continuity of the curriculum during the first critical months of the pandemic. Our students and residents adapted to the evolving education environment, and met the challenges. Predoctoral students in class leadership positions worked together to voice concerns with dental administration leaders through virtual meetings. Many of the issues could be accommodated while others were not possible for a variety of reasons. Something that sounds simple, such as remote access to AxiUm for students, was evaluated carefully then supported with assurances by the students and IT support services. 

A core group of faculty and staff provided supervision and supported screening of urgent patient needs; resident dentists in our Emergency Care Clinic, and Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry clinics managed patients well. As revised guidelines and directives were forthcoming from the governor, NSHE, and UNLV, re-opening stages were implemented. As many of you returned to campus, we increased capacity to see more patients. From March 23 to June 30, we screened more than 2,200 patients and treated more than 1,400 who presented in pain, with infections, or presented with other urgent and emergency oral health care needs. In essence, by managing patients with oral healthcare urgent needs, we served as a resource to these patients as opposed to them having to seek care in a hospital emergency room.

Another point emphasized roles and responsibilities as providers toward the total health and well-being of a person throughout the lifespan. We are educating our students to hone their abilities to manage oral healthcare, not simply as "tooth mechanics," but as responsible health practitioners with a valuable perspective of a person’s total health. Predoctoral dental students learn that by conducting a clinical examination and evaluation process, they will recognize and understand indicators related to other health issues that may require referral and follow-up by physician colleagues for intervention and care. 

I explained that as a prosthodontist, I have cared for people who have teeth, are missing teeth, or do not have teeth. To capture the full age spectrum of patients we encounter, I shared my experiences to include providing care for a 2-day-old infant with a cleft palate who required fabrication of a feeding plate, ranging to providing care for an octogenarian needing prosthodontic rehabilitation. The point being is that we, as dentists, experience multiple patient encounters annually and see our patients at every stage of life. And during every patient encounter, we are presented the opportunity to improve or enhance that person's quality of life and self-esteem. Quality of life issues prevail throughout a patient’s lifetime.

I was pleased to share the concept of healthcare delivery for person-centered care in a world where we – Academic Health Center deans Drs. Amar, Brown, Gerstenberger, and Kahn –  will work together to define interprofessional collaborative practice (IPCP).  The concept that better oral healthcare is related to better total health outcomes. 

As an academic dental institution, we report outcomes measures and other metrics that support compliance within NSHE, thereby contributing to UNLV as a top tier university. I highlighted accountability challenges and strategies to move forward based on the successes each of you has contributed thus far. I hope each regent will accept my invitation to visit and tour our facilities and meet you.

Thanks to each of you for contributing to a collegial and respectful environment.  Stay well and be safe.