New licensure by portfolio set to be implemented

Dental students in California will soon officially be able to graduate with a “portfolio” model exam process over the course of their final year in dental school.

In November, the Dental Board of California finalized the regulatory process of approval for the portfolio examination model and California’s dental schools can now begin the implementation process (it is not a requirement for the schools, however). This is the first licensure-by-portfolio-exam program in the nation.

The portfolio examination allows candidates to build a portfolio of completed clinical experiences and clinical competency examinations in six subject areas over the normal course of clinical training. Both clinical experiences and clinical competency examinations are performed on patients of record within the normal course of treatment. The primary difference between clinical experiences and clinical competency examinations is that the clinical competency examinations are performed independently, without faculty intervention.

“This is going to improve the education of California’s dental students and is something that CDA and the dental students themselves have fought for over several years,” said CDA President Walt Weber, DDS.

CDA and ADA policy supports the elimination of the one-time “live patient” clinical licensure exam and California’s dental students have been quite active in California’s process. Students hosted licensure forums at CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry in Anaheim and San Francisco in 2007, bringing together leaders from the Dental Board of California, CDA and selected dental school deans to discuss the future of licensure. In 2009, Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi (D-Hayward), introduced CDA-sponsored bill AB 1524, calling 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. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law, and up until this past November, it had been in the development phase.  

The Dental Board of California has included licensure by portfolio in its recent Sunset Review Report. In the report, the board lays out the requirements for students to participate in the examination, including that students must be in good academic standing and have no pending ethical issues at the time of the portfolio examination. Additionally, students must be signed off by the dean of their respective schools to participate in the exam.

The report goes on to state, "Portfolio assessment can provide a powerful approach to assessing a range of curriculum outcomes not easily assessed by other methods and provides a more in-depth picture of student competence than the snapshot obtained in a traditional examination."

A concern that has been raised about the portfolio examination is that, as the first of its kind in the nation, licensure reciprocity with other states must still be resolved. The dental board hopes that as the examination proves itself a model for other states, licensure portability will follow.

“CDA has been at the table throughout the portfolio development process by the Dental Board of California and we plan to continue to provide direct input as the program is implemented,” Weber said.

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