Through many postgraduate courses, I felt that I have acquired more and more knowledge and skills on diagnosis, planning, prevention and treatment. My collection of preventive advice and treatment skills grew. I was quite proud of my ability to tailoring the advice and treatments to individual patients according to their diagnosis, educational and financial backgrounds. But, then, I started to notice those who had better oral health got even better; those who had poor oral health stay about the same; and those who had the poorest oral health got banned from being seen again as they failed to turn up too many times. Unfortunately, some of them were young children. This broke my heart and I started to blame their parents for being so irresponsible. Poor and less educated people tended to have poorer oral health and attitude. Is the lack of education the reason of poor teeth? Why did repeated oral hygiene instructions and preventive advice not work for these people? Many people choose to accept these phenomena which seem to be impossible to change.
Recommended by a senior colleague, I decided to study the UCL MSc Dental Public Health course. This was not an easy decision for a sole breadwinner who lived 1.5 hours away from UCL. My decision surprised many of my dentist friends as this was not so fancy and not going to bring me extra income.
The first term on this course changed how I saw and how I thought. I started to realise why many health campaigns used lots of resources but failed to reduce health inequalities. People do not choose to be unhealthy. Most of the needs assessments I previously did failed to reflect people’s real needs and failed to account for the social determinants. Respecting these factors lifted me into a new level in patient management and health promotion. Outside work, people found me more approachable especially my teenage sons. They told me that I have changed a lot and they started to open their heart to me.
The second and third term changed how I acted when faced with problems and challenges. I was inspired to figure out solutions to reduce inequalities which seems to be an impossible task. The assignment I enjoyed the most involved designing a dental health promotion plan to reduce inequalities with very limited funding. A year later, I am still proud of my plan. I could never imagine what may be done with scarce resources.
The two of the core references I found most fascinating were the Ottawa Charter (1986) Health Promotion and Nutbeam (1998) Health Promotion Evaluation. These old concepts are broad, profound and evergreen. Once understood, one can grow plans, actions and solutions using these concepts and apply to situations inside and outside the scope of public health. The scope is so wide that I solved many of my problems and other people’s problems using these principles. Now, I always search for windows to infuse health promotion components into tasks not directly related to public health and to practice the evaluation skills.
Most of the thinking skills I have learnt were not from the course materials. Rather, in the process of discussions and assessments when I was inspired. This would not be possible if I chose a distance learning course.
I really miss the life changing twelve months in this course; miss the people, Richard for his inspiration and ambitiousness, George for his ingenuity and humorousness, Anja for her kindness and meticulousness, and, of course, a group of course mates from all around the world.
MSc Dental Public Health Class of 2019
General Dental Practitioner