June 1, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 22



Dental seniors shine
with the best on national exam

Photo of seniors (L-R) Sara Bender, Reza Abedi, Heather Keck Ridgway, Jeffrey Saunders, Melanie Robinson, Tara Hodges, Clifton Bailey, Victoria Heron, Boyd Vaughn, Crystell Billman and Brian Prentice received the Award for Exemplary Achievement on the National Board Part II exam. Fellow awardees Ashley Alanmanou, Amanda Juarez and Tuyet Nguyen are not pictured. The students were honored during the Dental School's annual Senior Awards Convocation ceremony. They graduated May 26.

Graduating dental students at the Health Science Center showed the quality of their training and academic ability during this spring's National Board Part II examination, ranking third in the nation on overall National Board Part II scores. This is the highest ranking for a class of senior dental students from UTHSC in recent memory.

Dr. Birgit Junfin Glass, professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the Dental School, said she is "thrilled the ranking is so high" but cautioned against reading too much into the results. "This third-place ranking is a first in my memory," she said. "However, this class also did extremely well on Part I, so we have to wait until next year's class takes Part II exams before trying to determine what may have made the difference."

Part I of the National Board exam is taken at the end of the sophomore year of dental school. Part II, which has two components, is taken during the senior year. Students must pass both parts of the National Board to graduate from the UTHSC Dental School. The exam is not meant to compare dental schools.

However, National Board exam scores are extremely important for the student's future, especially if the student chooses to pursue postdoctoral studies in advanced dental education programs. Dr. James T. Mellonig, professor and director of the postgraduate program in periodontics, noted that in evaluating dental students for postgraduate programs, National Board scores closely mirror how well the students will do in postdoctoral training. "We pay close attention to the candidates' National Board scores when selecting postdoctoral students," he said.

The Dental School, the Health Science Center and the Texas Legislature are interested in first-time pass rates, Dr. Glass said. "Our benchmark is to have a 90 percent first-time pass rate. Students are allowed to retake exams after a 90-day waiting period, but passing them on the first attempt is important."

The Class of 2001 clearly exceeded the benchmark. Ninety-nine percent of class members passed the Part II exam on the first try. "A combination of this high pass rate, and the students' ranking based on exam scores, certainly can play a part in our efforts to attract the best applicants to our school," Dr. Glass said. "We expect our curriculum to prepare the students to pass the exam and do well. However, we do not emphasize 'teaching to the board' nor have we stressed our ranking as long as we maintain a 90 percent or higher first-time pass rate. Nevertheless, this is quite an achievement. I congratulate the senior students and the faculty on a job well done."

Part II of the National Board Examination has two components. The UTHSC scores on both exceeded the national average by several points. Component A is a discipline-based, multiple-choice exam. It breaks the disciplines into operative dentistry, pharmacology, prosthodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery and pain control, orthodontics-pediatric dentistry, endodontics, periodontics, oral pathology, behavioral sciences and public health. UTHSC's point total on Part I was 289.5, compared to the average for all schools of 272.6.

Component B is case based. In this section, the multiple-choice questions are based on a synopsis of a patient's health and social histories, dental charting, clinical photograph and radiographs. The Class of 2001's total score was 66.3, compared to the national average of 62.5.

"Does a high ranking equate to better quality? That is debatable," Dr. Glass said. "Some schools emphasize performance on boards — we do not. The first-time pass rate is more important to us, but we do use the results of these exams as one component of our continuous evaluation of our curriculum."