Global Health Nexus, Winter 2004

NYU Dentistry Prepares Dental Students for Future Roles as Emergency Responders

First U.S. Dental School to Mandate Student Terrorism Preparedness Training

NYU Dentistry has become the first dental school in the United States to implement a full, four-year curriculum in terrorism preparedness training that all dental students must take in order to graduate. “Our reasoning is based on two premises,” said Dean Alfano. “First, that the country is vulnerable tocatastrophic events originating as natural disasters, industrial accidents, or terrorist crimes; and second, that all graduates must know the early warning signs and symptoms of attack along with appropriate ways to respond to the needs of patients and staff, as well as how to interact with other health professionals and first responders to strengthen the community response.”

Dr. Dianne Rekow, Director of Translational Research and Chairperson of NYU Dentistry’s Bioterrorism and Catastrophe Response Task Force, led the development of the bioterrorism preparedness curriculum. Other facultymembers who played key roles in the project include Dr. Frederick More, Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion and of Pediatric Dentistry; Dr. Robert Boylan, Associate Professor of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology; Dr. Joan Phelan, Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Oral Pathology; Dr. Miriam Robbins, Clinical Associate Professor of Oral Medicine and Coordinator of Emergency Dental Services; and Dr. Walter J. Psoter, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion.

“The program is designed to educate as well as to prepare future dentists to participate fully in community, state, and national biodefense teams,” said Dr. Rekow.

In fall 2003, students in all four years of the curriculum began to learn specific aspects of terrorism preparedness and response. In their freshman year, in the ethics program, they learn about the ethical responsibilities of a dentist to society, and they also learn the emergency response behaviors to follow within the college, with regard to fire, infection control, evacuation, and shelter-in-place requirements. Sophomores study general pathology and infectious diseases, with the goal of becoming knowledgeable about potential agents of bioterror (microbial, radiation, chemical), their actions and human responses. Students in their junior year study clinical signs of bioterror agents in order to identify the signs and symptoms that signal a bioterrorist attack. They also perform differential diagnosis between response to natural and to bioterror agents, and become knowledgeable about vaccination and antidote availability and policies. And seniors learn how to assess risk of attack, identify potential agents and how they might be used, describe likely modes of dissemination, identify signs and symptoms, communicate information to patients and the community, and consider their role in national, state, and local preparations and responses. In addition, a practice management course addresses office equipment and staff training in biodefense.

Six second- and third-year students at the NYU College of Dentistry got a preview of things to come last summer when they participated in a week-long Army training course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, on the medical management of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agent threats. The program was conducted in cooperation with the Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMS).

In another example of civilian-military collaboration, NYU Dentistry cosponsored a weekend conference entitled “New York City CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive) Training for Emergency Responders & Medical Professionals” in January 2004. Cosponsors included the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, US AMEDDC & S, New York Critical Response Medical Service, Associated Medical Schools of New York, and the US Army Medical Detachment, 1st Recruiting Brigade.

NYU Dentistry's plans call for continuing to work closely with the military, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and other medical and public safety professionals, to build a cadre of dental graduates who will be able to respond appropriately within their communities in the event of a catastrophic public health crisis.