The turning point in dental licensure modernization is upon us

Whenever and wherever dentists gather, there are few conversational topics which generate more professional unity than the archaic licensure process and fragmented portability landscape which still, in 2019, significantly restrict dentists’ freedom of movement to live and practice anywhere in the United States.

Dr. Yates

The reality is that these regional exams, centered on single-snapshot-in-time procedures on patients, are inherently not standardized, nor have they been shown to be psychometrically valid or reliable.

In the past, calls for licensure reform have come separately from practicing dentists, dental educators, and dental students. Though the call to action is not new, the unity among these three groups in accomplishing this important goal is new and very exciting.

Licensure has been of interest to me since the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, when I recall conversations between my grandmother and father, both dentists, about the seemingly insurmountable restrictions they would face if they ever wanted to move to another state and continue practicing dentistry.

In the mid 2000’s, I found myself caught in a changing licensure landscape when the state of New York announced sweeping licensure reform in response to the numerous ethical challenges created by the patient-based licensure exams. I moved to Chicago to complete a general practice residency in order to comply with New York’s new licensure requirement, amid fears that there would not be enough residency positions in my home state to accommodate all of New York’s dental school graduates.

While in Chicago, I met my husband, and continued to practice dentistry there for 8 years. When it became clear that working in public health dentistry was financially incompatible with living and raising a young son in downtown Chicago, my husband and I decided to relocate, so I could continue to provide care to underserved communities.

The single most important factor in deciding where to relocate was finding a state where I could continue to practice dentistry using my PGY-1 and existing NERB credential, and not be a victim of the arbitrary whims of state dental boards, many of which have tight relationships with regional testing agencies – relationships laden with obvious conflict of interest. Dental licensure restraints have literally shaped the course of my life more than once; while I am just one example, there are countless other U.S. dentists whose lives have been unnecessarily restricted in this way.

I have been involved in the licensure reform conversation for more than a decade, and from 2016 through 2018, I had the honor and privilege to serve on the Task Force on Assessment of Readiness for Practice. On Oct. 1, 2018, I was present for the landmark formation of a coalition by the three leading dental organizations that, I believe, is a turning point in the licensure reform and modernization effort.

Signing: From left, Dr. R.L. Monty MacNeil, chair of the American Dental Education Association Board of Directors; Roopali Kulkarni, American Student Dental Association president; and Dr. Joseph P. Crowley, ADA president sign an agreement Oct. 1 at ADA Headquarters to become founding members of the Coalition for Modernizing Dental Licensure, which calls for the modernization of the initial dental licensure process.

The ADA, American Dental Education Association and American Student Dental Association signed a charter and became the founding members of the Coalition for Modernizing Dental Licensure. The Coalition’s mission is two-fold: to provide a more valid and reliable alternative to the existing regional licensure exams through support of a U.S.-developed dental licensure objective structured clinical exam (DLOSCE), and to increase portability of licensure exams, with the ultimate goal of having the DLOSCE be accepted by licensing jurisdictions nationwide.

Meeting of the Task Force on Assessment of Readiness for Practice: October 1, 2018
Dr. Robert Bitter, Dr. Cecile Feldman, Dr. Steven Friedrichsen, Dr. Steven Holm, Dr. Denise Kassebaum, Dr. R. Lamont MacNeil, Dr. Kirk Norbo, Dr. Jill Price, Dr. Lindsey Yates, Dr. Joseph Crowley, Dr. Jeffrey Cole, Dr. Gerald Glickman, Ms. Roopali Kulkarni, Mr. Jeffrey Kerst, Mr. Josh Mintz (not pictured: Dr. Marsha Pyle, Dr. Leo Rouse)

The creation of the DLOSCE is well underway, with pilots expected this year, and projected launch in 2020. Colorado, Minnesota, Washington and Canada currently license dentists using the Canadian OSCE.

The Canadian OSCE reported a passing rate of 93% in 2018 while testing a much broader scope of dentistry than the current single-snapshot procedure-based exams; thus, use of an OSCE for dental licensure raises the standards for individuals to enter our great profession. When almost every candidate, after multiple attempts, eventually passes the current single-snapshot procedure-based licensure examinations, one can hardly argue that these licensure examinations are truly protecting the public, and not merely a costly formality.

The more challenging part of the Coalition’s mission will be achieving nationwide portability; this is where I call on my fellow dentists who have witnessed and/or experienced the injustices and irregularities of the current exam process to step up and get involved.

Acceptance of the DLOSCE will take time and must happen on a state-by-state basis. What can you do to be part of the solution? Get involved with your state board of dentistry! State boards need volunteers who are well-informed and free from financial and territorial biases; these conflicts of interest currently exist when examiners who are also board members steer their state board towards certain exams and away from other exams.

In the future, when we look back on the history of dental licensure modernization, I believe we will consider the moments captured in these photos above as a turning point. I am filled with encouragement that meaningful change is achievable for the first time in decades – won’t you join me in being part of the solution?

Dr. Lindsey Yates is a New Dentist Now guest blogger and a member of the American Dental Association, Colorado Dental Association and Metropolitan Denver Dental Society. She is a 2008 graduate from Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine in New York, and completed her GPR at Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago in 2009. Dr. Yates has been involved with organized dentistry since the beginning, as an ASDA national leader for 3 years, and has served on the ADA New Dentist Committee, ADA Council on Government Affairs, ADA Council on Members Insurance and Retirement Programs, as well as the ADA-ADEA-ASDA Licensure Task Force. Dr. Yates practices general dentistry in Aurora, Colorado, and is an assistant professor at University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. The views in this editorial represent the author’s personal perspective.

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