Published: 10:33, May 22, 2024 | Updated: 10:38, May 22, 2024
HK health chief urges support for dentist internships
By Wang Zhan
This undated photo shows the Multi-Specialty Clinic of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Dentistry, which provides students with clinical training opportunities and the public with affordable specialized dental treatment. (COURTESY OF THE HKU)

HONG KONG – Secretary for Health Prof Lo Chung-mau has appealed to the special administrative region’s legislators to support the internship arrangements for local dental graduates.

Prof Lo made the appeal on Tuesday as the government further elaborated on a proposal on requiring local dental undergraduates to undergo a one-year internship after their graduation following concerns expressed by Legislative Council members and attendees of a deputation session of the Bills Committee on the Dentists Registration (Amendment) Bill 2024.

The proposed internship arrangement aims to enhance the clinical experience of local dental graduates through on-the-job training to address concerns raised by the Dental Council of Hong Kong (DCHK) on multiple occasions over the severe lack of clinical experience among graduates of the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) program of the University of Hong Kong in its accreditation exercises.

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“This serves to uphold the standard of dental services in Hong Kong and safeguard the wellbeing of patients,” the government said in a statement.

Emphasizing that local dental graduates are to be treated under the bill as registered dentists when they are undergoing the internship, the government said the internship arrangement is by no means an extension of the program and it is infeasible to replace the internship with school work.

As a responsible government, we should proactively enhance the standard of our dentists to keep up with the times, rather than taking remedial measures only after incidents concerning patients' safety arise.

Prof Lo Chung-mau, Secretary for Health, HKSAR

In a written reply to the LegCo, the DCHK said it is inappropriate to allow BDS students, who are still in the learning and practicing process without having yet fully mastered various clinical skills for dental treatment, to prematurely undergo internship as registered dentists and perform various dental procedures on patients independently.

“The government also considered that it is impractical to require students to undergo internship on a full-time basis while studying an undergraduate program at the same time,” reads the statement.

The government said it undertook to provide internship opportunities for all dental graduates of the BDS program of HKU and will spare no effort in assisting every graduate to complete the internship to provide quality dental services to the community.

Based on the bill's ongoing legislative progress, the internship requirement will, at the earliest, apply to local dental graduates in the class of 2025 and thereafter, while the arrangement for period of assessment will apply to non-locally trained dentists who have sat and passed the licensing examination administered by the DCHK with the exact date hinging on the examination schedule.

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Noting that the internship arrangement is designed for dental graduates, akin to the long-established practice for medical practitioners, the government said, with reference to the experience of medical interns, cases requiring extension of internship or period of assessment are extremely rare – only about 1 percent.

There is no record of any case for termination of internship or period of assessment in the past five years, it added.

Stressing that the government attached great importance to the training and regulation of the professional standard of dentists and the prospects of local BDS students in the city, the secretary for health said: “Regardless of the manpower supply of dentists, we are committed to investing additional resources to arrange internship placement for local dental graduates, thereby promoting their professional development to offer better services to the public.”

Referring to some LegCo members’ plan to propose amendments to the internship arrangement, he said the government has proposed to introduce the internship arrangement as soon as possible, which is crucial to maintaining the professional standards and reputation of dentistry in Hong Kong. “More importantly, it is central to safeguarding the wellbeing of our citizens."

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Stressing that the early implementation of internship arrangements is a matter of public interest and imminence, Prof Lo said: “As a responsible government, we should proactively enhance the standard of our dentists to keep up with the times, rather than taking remedial measures only after incidents concerning patients' safety arise.”

He strongly appealed to LegCo members and the industry to recognize the importance of the proposed internship arrangement and render support for its early implementation.