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Dental School Curriculum: How SGL Works

Dental School Curriculum: How SGL Works


Patient centered. Problem focused. Innovation and community driven. This is how our curriculum is changing the future of oral health.  

The UIC College of Dentistry offers comprehensive and advanced dental education and research opportunities, powered by innovative methods and cutting-edge technology, and enriched by a diverse and collaborative community of faculty, staff and students. Curriculum innovations have resulted in the College receiving the prestigious William J. Gies Award from the American Dental Education Association. Additionally, the College has implemented a sequence of improvements in clinical education to prepare students to provide oral health care to traditionally underserved patients, and to advocate for universal oral health care for all Americans.


What is SGL: Small Group Learning?

In Small Group Learning (SGL), student teams investigate real-world patient cases representing key concepts of the curriculum. The cases model typical clinical scenarios they will encounter in their 3rd and 4th years, as well as throughout a dental career. This approach of learning helps students develop valuable critical thinking and problem solving skills that are highly sought after in today’s healthcare professions. 

These sessions are highly interactive in which student inquiry and exploration drive the discussion and learning process. Faculty facilitators - representing a diverse academic background including basic biomedical science, clinical dentistry, academic dentistry, and social science - guide the students to stimulate the thought process and ensure case objectives are met.

The SGL learning approach helps students to integrate knowledge of the basic, clinical and behavioral sciences into the management of patients. The desired outcome of these discussions is to develop a safe and effective management plan for the “patients” based on understanding of the basic and clinical sciences.

D4 students have the opportunity to engage in an advanced version of SGL called Oral Systemic issues in Dentistry, or DOSI, where they observe/ deliver case presentations involving a broad scope of dental disciplines and discuss clinical patient management grounded in basic science principles and evidence- based research. In addition to enhanced presentations skills, students receive more in-depth training in comprehensive management of patients with various diseases and conditions of body systems.


SGL Features


  • Integration of biomedical sciences, clinical sciences and professionalism. 

  • Development of critical thinking, structured problem solving, peer evaluation, and self-reflection.

  • Collaborative and cooperative learning style and the development of skills for life-long learning.  



Collaborative and Patient-Centered 
Students appreciate our curriculum because it is highly collaborative, patient-centered, and medically comprehensive in nature, including behavioral science education, evidence-based dentistry, and implant dentistry. They also appreciate the rich diversity represented across the student body, and in our patient population. And, while our patients will be the first to agree that dental education is rigorous and challenging - especially given all of the new
biomedical and clinical discoveries advancing the profession - they also appreciate why the College re-invented our educational programs, moving from static lectures (that are often outdated) to a dynamic, interactive, team-based learning (or Small Group Learning/SGL), placing the student and patient
at the center of the educational experience. 

vert-bar-green20x370.jpg“I love the Small Group Learning (SGL) approach because it teaches me to interact with colleagues in a professional manner, to actively listen, to contribute to the case work in meaningful ways that others will understand. It has also helped me to sharpen my presentations."

 - Ritu Kulkarni, DMD Advanced Standing, Class of 2017



Integrated and Evidenced-Based
Students learn in an integrated way that brings together several key aspects of scientific and medical knowledge. This includes a strong foundation in the basic scientific principles pertaining to all relevant human biological systems such as musculoskeletal, immune and nervous systems, cardiovascular. Students will learn how these systems work together and relate to oral health on a physiological and molecular level. Additionally, students will explore aspects of infections and pharmacology to understand how medications interact with these systems.

In addition to developing up-to-date scientific and clinical skills, students also gain enhanced critical thinking and analytical skills through our innovative learning format called small group learning (SGL). This innovative approach integrates scientific and clinical knowledge with team-based cases designed to improve students' ability to  apply the latest evidence to solve real-world patient care problems. The interdisciplinary case scenarios emphasize the relationship between systemic and oral diseases, health and prevention, family and community context, disease diagnosis and evidence based practice. The SGL curriculum structure offers students several benefits:

  • Increased capacity to find and apply information relevant to clinical cases
  • Improved higher-order reasoning
  • Enhanced communication and collaboration

The DMD curriculum offers a variety of learning formats that integrate basic science with real-world clinical competencies. Biomedical science courses are organized to provide comprehensive instruction into each organ system concurrently so that students can see the whole picture. Starting in their first year, students learn foundational clinical skills in pre-patient care clinics designed to simulate real-world patient care environments and scenarios.  The curriculum also emphasizes evidence based practices to build competency in finding, evaluating and applying the best available evidence to patient treatments.

DMD-AS-training474.pngLearning formats include:

  • Small Group Learning (SGL)
  • Interactive didactic sessions (lecture)
  • Patient simulation clinics
  • Patient care experience in pre-docotoral clinics
  • Service-learning rotations at extramural sites
  • Anatomy lab
  • Independent study
  • Shadowing in clinics
  • Ethics presentations

Community Focused
In their first three years, students are introduced to the issues that contribute to health disparities in the U.S., and lead to higher levels of poor oral health in under-served populations. Students visit local communities and community organizations to learn about such issues firsthand. Through these experiences, students provide care to the underserved urban, rural, and special needs populations including pediatric, developmentally disabled, HIV-positive, and geriatric patients. Fourth year students engage in service-learning experiences as part of a required course which involves community-based rotations at partnering health centers. Students devote a minimum of 50 days at these sites providing care to underserved urban, rural, and special-needs populations including children, developmentally disabled, HIV-positive and geriatric patients. 

More on our community service-learning 


vert-bar-green20x370.jpg“As a first year dental student, I  retained more information in SGL compared to previous lecture-style curriculums. SGL provides students the opportunity to both discover information for themselves and also to help teach one another."

- Jacqueline Wisinski, DMD Class of 2020, M.B.A., M.A.



video-play.png  Video: Training the Next Generation of Oral Health Professionals

In this video, faculty and students describe how our innovative curriculum enhances the student experience.



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