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Using questions to inspire learning
Dr Elaine Tan, Consultant Orthodontist, National Dental Centre Singapore shares how learning how to teach sparked her passion for clinical education. 

What area of dentistry do you practise and teach?
I specialise in orthodontics, which is the art and science of putting teeth and jaws in a harmonious position with the face. This helps to improve appearance, oral health and function. When once crooked teeth are aligned into a neat smile, it also changes a person’s appearance and often gives them more confidence and better self-esteem. I enjoy the challenges of this specialty and passing on my knowledge and values to the next generation of orthodontists. 

How did you get into teaching? 
After qualifying as an orthodontist, I was given the role of being a clinical lecturer to the Orthodontic residents. I had no prior training on how to teach, so I signed up for the faculty development Fellows Programme at the Academic Medicine Education Institute (AM.EI). This 12 month train-the-trainers programme is designed to help healthcare profession educators acquire advanced teaching skills so they can train others to be future faculty in AM.EI. Orthodontics was frequently taught in an apprenticeship style, where the specialist would tell residents what to do and answer their questions directly. It wasn’t until I started the course that I discovered there are so many teaching theories and strategies which make learning more engaging and fun!

As I learnt new teaching skills, I started applying them while conducting orthodontics training seminars and practical sessions. I quickly saw the impact they had on the trainees’ learning experience and understanding. Seemingly simple questions prompted trainees to come up with answers to complex problems, helping them become self-directed learners. This in turn has inspired me to continue seeking out new ways to further improve my teaching. 

Any memorable teaching moments?
When treating crooked teeth, every mouth is different. The skill of an orthodontist lies in diagnosing the problems correctly and coming up with treatment plans that will result in each unique patient having a healthy mouth and smile. This could include which teeth need extractions, the type of braces required and whether surgery is needed.

I remember a trainee asking me what he should do for a patient. I turned the question back to him and asked what he thought would be the best course of action. We discussed his recommendations and by the end there was a sparkle in his eyes when he realised that he had derived his own answers and formulated his own treatment plan for the patient. It was also a special moment for me, seeing him grow in confidence and apply what he had learnt.