by Regina A.Thomas, Accreditation Editor
The room housing the dental museum on B level has temporarily turned into "Accreditation Central," where NJDS faculty and administrative staff prepare documents for an intensive scrutiny of the school's pre- and post-doctoral programs.* These documentscalled self-studies are submitted for review by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), a consulting body operating under the auspices of the American Dental Association (ADA). This challenging peer review process ensures that the institution has met or exceeded the standards established by the Commission while meeting its own mission and goals. Meeting or exceeding accreditation standards translates into quality education of dentists and ultimately leads to quality dental care for the public.
To maintain accredited status, all programs must be re-evaluated with an on-site review every seven years except for programs in the specialty of oral and maxillofacial surgery. These are reviewed every five years. The NJDS cycle occurs this October; OMS was site visited in September 1996 and "passed" with flying colors.
Why Accreditation is a Good Thing
In the past, accreditation was centered on a self-study with an end point of seven years. Now the process at NJDS is grounded in strategies for continual, institution-wide self assessment, an evolutionary approach that enables the school to look at its outcomes on an ongoing basis and react accordingly. When an institution such as NJDS is committed to growth and excellence in education, patient care, research, and community service, the process assumes a prominent place in strategic planning and becomes a valuable tool for evaluating and monitoring the school's programs.
Who Calls the Shots?
In the United States, accreditation is accomplished primarily through nongovernmental, voluntary, institutional or professional associations that establish the criteria for accreditation, arrange the site visits, and evaluate those institutions and professional programs desiring accreditation.
CODA, which oversees all dental educational programs, uses consultants in the areas of finance, clinical science, basic science, curriculum, and auxiliary and specialty education. Consultants for the post-doctoral programs are not only different from those evaluating the pre-doctoral programs, but from each other. The NJDS programs, as well as the allied dental health programs at UMDNJ-School of Health Related Professions, are site visited at the same time but by different consultants.
How the Process Works at NJDS
In late 1996, an Accreditation Steering Committee, led by Dr. Cecile Feldman, associate dean for Planning and Assessment, and Dr. Zia Shey ('73), associate dean for Student Affairs and Graduate Dental Education, was formed. The committee began addressing the six basic standards identified by the Commission for the pre-doctoral programs: institutional effectiveness, education (curriculum), faculty and staff, educational support services, patient care, and research. Subcommittees consisting of administrators, faculty, staff, and students reviewed and translated the strengths and weaknesses in the six areas and offered recommendations and suggestions for program improvement. A Quality Assurance Committee and an Outcomes Assessment Committee were strong affiliates in providing data to document the direction of a changing educational environment.
Under Dr. Feldman's leadership, the Accreditation Steering Committee generated the information necessary for writing the pre-doctoral self-study and supporting documentation. Dr. Shey headed up the team of seven postgraduate program directors who assessed their programs and wrote individual self-studies using the standards developed by each of the specialties in Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD), Endodontics, General Practice Residency (GPR), Orthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics, and Prosthodontics.
In July, the self-study reports were sent to the identified members of the on-site evaluation team for all pre- and post-doctoral programs. This gave reviewers ample time to peruse the documents before coming to NJDS. The site visit's purpose is to determine the degree to which NJDS complies with the accreditation standards as written in the school's self-study report.
What Happens After the Site Visit?
The visiting team prepares a report delineating the strengths and weaknesses of each program. This report is reviewed by Dean Robert Saporito and other administrators before it is submitted to the Commission. Both the preliminary report and any response received from NJDS are considered when the Commission makes its final determination of accreditation status in December. Formal notification of this decision will be sent to the president of UMDNJ and then to Dean Saporito.
Even though everyone at NJDS will breathe a sigh of relief when the stressful time is over and the "A" word no longer dominates people's vocabularies, it is not an end point. Rather, follow-through on the results of the self-analysis and itscontinuing effect on operational policies and practices will be a hallmark of its success.
Accreditation is a lengthy, time-consuming process, but in the end, everyone benefitsincluding patients. Students,alumni, faculty, and staff can know that NJDS is meetingand in many cases exceedingthe standards that assure its graduates are fully competent and qualified to practice dentistry.
*Editor's Note: Items from the dental museum have been safely archived by Dr. Harris Silverstein, clinical professor of General and Hospital Dentistry.