First USC dental student completes licensure by portfolio

The first dental student at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC has completed the licensure by portfolio process.

Alexandra Chamberlain, DDS, completed the school's Certification of Clinical Experiences for licensure through portfolio by passing seven clinical competency examinations. The topics covered in the examination included oral diagnosis and treatment planning, direct restorations, indirect restorations, removable prosthodontics, endodontics and periodontics. Chamberlain chose to go the licensure by portfolio route instead of the traditional Western Regional Examining Board (WREB) exam process because she felt it gave her a more representative test of her skillset as a dentist.

"It made it less stressful. It wasn't just about one weekend; it was much more representative of your actual skills," Chamberlain said.

California's portfolio option gives students an alternative to being tested on multiple patients over the course of one weekend. The portfolio process offers many benefits, which allow students to extend treatment over multiple patient visits, reduces the stress of a one-time testing event and more closely simulates real-world care. The portfolio process also ensures patients receive comprehensive care, not just the treatment required for the examination and provides a method by which students are ready for licensure upon graduation.

Chamberlain said the portfolio process felt more natural to her and her patients.

"When you were ready for the exam, you didn't have to tell your patient, 'I can do it in three months when I take the WREB.' It was just like a normal appointment with two examiners. The patient didn't feel the anxiety, it was a normal environment for them," said Chamberlain, who served as a CDA student representative for four years while at USC.

Michael J Mulvehill, BS, DDS, MBA, is the director of student licensure at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. He said the licensure by portfolio process allows the school to mentor and assist the graduating senior in their licensure decisions and options. The evaluation of independent clinical competency can now be accomplished during the student's final year of study along with the completion of all requirements for graduation. As the director of student licensure, Mulvehill facilitates the calibration of the examining faculty in each discipline and acts as the liaison between the school and the Dental Board of California in the portfolio process. The school currently has 20 calibrated faculty members.

Mulvehill worked closely with Chamberlain as she completed the portfolio process, helping her with the paperwork, finding calibrated faculty to analyze her work and more.

The dental board in November 2014 finalized the regulatory process of approval for the portfolio examination model in California's dental schools, which is optional for both the schools and students. This is the first licensure-by-portfolio-exam program in the nation. So far, the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, the UCSF School of Dentistry and now the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC are the dental schools that have implemented it.

A concern that has been raised about the portfolio examination is that, as the first of its kind in the nation, licensure reciprocity is not established with other states.  However, as states begin to look at the issue of licensure portability, and the portfolio exam more closely, the dental board is optimistic that portability will soon follow.  

For Chamberlain, the lack of licensure reciprocity wasn't a concern because she plans to work at her father's practice in Redlands as an orthodontist when she completes her residency at USC.

"If you aren't planning to stay in California, it's the only potential negative I could see about choosing licensure by portfolio over the WREB. I imagine other states will follow soon," Chamberlain said. "But if you do plan to stay in California, I don't think there is any reason not do it."

While Chamberlain was the first student to complete licensure by portfolio at USC, there are three other students slated to complete it in this school year. Mulvehill said that 45 students from the 2017 class were in attendance at a recent meeting about the California Portfolio Examination.

In 2009, with support from dental students, CDA sponsored AB 1524, which called for the replacement of the California clinical examination with a "portfolio" model exam process that would take place over the course of students' clinical training in dental school. The bill was signed into law in 2010, and until last year, had been in the development phase.

For more information on licensure, visit the dental board's website, dbc.ca.gov.

Updated: 06/24/16

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