Improving student dentist competencies and perception of difficulty in delivering care to children with developmental disabilities using a virtual patient module.

An interactive, multimedia, virtual patient module was designed and developed on compact disc (CD-ROM) to address the need for student dentists to increase their competence and decrease their perception of difficulty in caring for children with developmental disabilities. A development team consisting of pediatric dentistry faculty members, parents of children with developmental disabilities, an individual with a developmental disability, and educational specialists developed an interactive virtual patient case. The case involved a ten-year-old child with Down syndrome presenting with a painful tooth. Student dentists were required to make decisions regarding proper interactions with the child, as well as appropriate clinical procedures throughout the case. Differences in perceived difficulty level and knowledge change were measured, as well as the student dentists’ overall satisfaction with the learning experience. Significant results were obtained in both perceived difficulty level and knowledge-based measures for student dentists. Participants reported overall satisfaction with the modules. Preparing student dentists to provide sensitive and competent care for children with developmental disabilities is a critical need within dentistry. This study demonstrated that an interactive, multimedia (CD-ROM), virtual patient learning module for student dentists is potentially an effective tool in meeting this need.