The influence of humanities supported dental service learning on students' perceptions of social responsibility and professionalism regarding oral healthcare delivery.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Medical Humanities


Despite advances in scientific knowledge related to oral health, profound disparities exist in vulnerable U.S. populations. One way in which dental schools have responded to the divide between oral health needs and the capacity to meet those needs is through service learning (SL). Blending SL with the humanities, such as literary studies in a healthcare curriculum, improves learning outcomes. The focus of this dissertation examines the role of Medical Humanities instruction in the clinical training of future dental health professionals. As evidenced by a quantitative study and supported by student-written excerpts, I argue that a Medical Humanities curriculum has value within dental education and its application to SL improves students' perceptions regarding social responsibility and professionalism in oral healthcare delivery. Seventy-nine dental hygiene students at the New York University College of Dentistry-Dental Hygiene Programs were surveyed about their attitudes toward 1) health professionals' roles and responsibilities in issues affecting access to oral health care, 2) health professionals' ability as leaders and agents of change, 3) health professionals' ability to communicate with patients and team members during the delivery of care, and 4) the value of interprofessional experience in delivery of care. Surveys were sent to two groups of students: those who participated in SL opportunities having studied Medical Humanities in their curriculum, and those who did not. While the quantitative findings were statistically insufficient to support program effectiveness, the mean response of the Medical Humanities group was consistently higher than that from those without Medical Humanities in perceived understanding of the four study areas. Additionally, findings from sample reflection pieces demonstrate an increased awareness of concepts regarding underserved and vulnerable populations, social determinates of disease, factors impacting quality care, and disease burden. The student surveys and written excerpts will be used to improve the quality of service-learning activities in the NYUCD-DHP curriculum and may have broader influence in the development of best practices for service-learning activities henceforth. This dissertation brings into focus the role of the humanities in developing dental professionals who are committed to the concept of providing quality care (in the patient's best interest) to all citizens.