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"To merely provide German students with information about developments in Germany would be an anachronism"

An interview with BdZM chairman Kai Becker. The Bundesverband der Zahnmedizinstudenten in Deutschland e.V. (BdZM) represents dentistry students at over 30 German universities. The aim: representing and promoting the interests and wishes of some 13,000 future dentists. Kai Becker is in his tenth semester at the University of Hamburg and has been the chairman of the association since 2014. The 22 year old spoke to us on a range of subjects, including the new licensing regulations, the relationship between the dental industry and university study and the challenges of tomorrow.

D’life: Why did you decide to involve yourself in the work of the BdZM?

I wanted to see what worked better at other universities than where I am studying in Hamburg, so I joined the » national student representation body (BuFaTa) at the earliest possible opportunity. Every university faces different problems, and for many of the problems there is already a solution from one of the student representation bodies. At our general meeting, I soon saw that the » BdZM was the only network with the structures large enough to facilitate cross-regional co-operation and organise projects at national level.

I enjoy looking beyond my immediate circumstances. It is important to learn more than just about dentistry. I wanted to find out about and communicate the organisation of professional politics and science in Germany by taking part in this process myself.

My predecessor Arthur Heinitz recruited me to the BdZM and encouraged me to put my name forward as a candidate for the election of a new chairperson in 2014. My term of office ends in June of this year.

The board of management set itself a number of aims. Have you made any specific progress in these matters?

One of our main aims was to improve communication between the student bodies at the various universities between our two annual meetings. The internet has presented a number of opportunities to this end.

The e-mail newsletter, which we published in 2016, has proven an especially effective instrument for communication and feedback – we can not only send out information, but are also able to run a number of questionnaires that provide us with valuable insight. Analysis of viewing statistics also reveals the topics in which our students are most interested. We also maintain details of telephone contacts with various contact persons at the student bodies at different universities with whom we have regular discussions, which also enables us to keep up-to-date. The board of management has also extended the range of its activities, and we are also active in the international umbrella organizations, the » EDSA and » IADS. Seen within the context of increasing European integration and globalization, we view such extensions as vital in keeping abreast of changing circumstances. "In my view, to merely provide German students with information about developments in Germany would be an anachronism".

A further important aspect is the level of social responsibility which we dentists display". Seeking to provide students with a taste of this important field, we work together closely with the » Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei (DKMS) to register stem cell donors in the fight against leukaemia. We provide our members with information about leukaemia and encourage them to organise registration days for the DKMS – all with considerable success.

This year's student conference organised within the framework of the conference of the German Dental Association is another form of voluntary work. The topic of this year's conference is "Clinical training and working abroad: the challenges, opportunities and realities".

What in your view, are the most important points of the new licensing reform?

This reform is essential for the modernisation of the study of dentistry. It performs a range of functions, including the prescription of the framework within which the national skills-based learning outcomes in dentistry » (Nationale Kompetenzbasierte Lernzielkatalog Zahnmedizin) are laid out. The new licensing reform primarily seeks to homogenise the existing good study conditions at the various German universities. For instance, it prescribes compulsory integrated courses, which are designed to enable students to identify the conservative and prosthetics needs of their patients during the teaching of every dental discipline. The ratio of students to staff has also improved considerably.

This is vital in training the dentists of tomorrow.

The new reform also focuses on preventative dentistry, which is taught earlier in the course. This can only make sense.

The BdZM is currently seeking to strengthen its ties with student bodies from the human medical faculties such as the Bundesvertretung der Medizinstudierenden in Deutschland (bvmd). Which shared interests and potential for co-operation do you see here?

We view the » bvmd as something approaching an older sister to whom we can look up in admiration. As the significantly larger association, its structures and level of organisation are much more professional than ours. This is in no way a bad thing – we can learn from her and work with her as a strong partner.

For example, we have joined our student representative bodies under a single umbrella organisation. The BdZM continues to grow just as the structures within the dental profession. For instance, after an inter-disciplinary meeting with the medical associations in March, from the summer onwards we will enter even closer, project-related co-operation with bvmd and other bodies.

A number of representatives from the dental industry also engage with and support students interests. Do you see further potential in this area? What sort of support would you welcome?

The industry is an essential partner for dental medicine; we as dental students can only be interested in intensifying ties. We appreciate this and have learned to take advantage of it. A number of student initiatives, such as the meetings of my student body organisation, can only function with sponsorship from the industry. This represents a win-win situation. Students are able to find out more about the situation in other universities, whilst our partners in industry gain access to a captive audience of potential future customers twice a year.

For us, it is important that students are given access to the whole range of providers. Only then is it possible to compare and contrast the full range of services available to us, thereby reaching an informed conclusion. At the same time, students profit from the consistency of the partners. A good working relationship with a trusted contact partner builds on previous workshops and demonstrations to facilitate information exchange about product innovations.

We even see potential for improvement in the continuity of personnel involved in such operations. The co-operation has started well, as can be seen at our bi-annual meetings. Building on this framework, the student representative bodies organise a range of local events.

What, in your view are the challenges facing the training of future dentists? Which issues are gaining in importance?

Training in dental medicine is a very cost-intensive undertaking. This is nothing new, but must be borne in mind for all further discussions. A further factor is the shortage of available university places to study dental medicine. This means that admissions are decided by comparing school examination results – something which satisfies no-one. The challenge facing us in coming years is the need to develop a suitable selection procedure.

The high costs have also created a further problem: efforts to modernise degree courses within the scope of the new licensing reform for dentists (AOZ) are so expensive that they have not got off the ground yet. A number of universities are willing to make improvements without the new reform and are in the position to do so. Unfortunately, not all universities can keep up. If we look at the standards across different dental training courses across Germany, we can see a disparity between a group of top university courses on the one hand and a number that are "bringing up the rear" on the other hand. However, every dentist should be trained according to the state of the art. What we hear about the barely tolerable conditions at some German universities is causing a lot of headaches. We see the licensing reform as the only way out of this situation. This year saw the introduction of the voluntary model degree course paragraph: a step that will only serve to increase the differences.

The economic status of dentists has recently become an important topic in terms of the European-wide debate about moves to restrict self-employed status.

The coming months will see intensive discussions with students about the form in which they would like to work. We hope that we will agree on the need to retain the structures of self-employment.

Thank you for talking to us.

Published by: ml/rf
The board of the Bundesverband der Zahnmedizinstudenten in Deutschland e.V.

The board of the Bundesverband der Zahnmedizinstudenten in Deutschland e.V.

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