Risk Perception and Readiness of Dental Students to Treat Patients Amid COVID‐19: Implication for Dental Education
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Dental settings have one of the highest risks of infection transmission (Jamal et al., 2020; Mohebati et al., 2010). Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant challenge for dental students and infection control measures. Data presented here was extracted from a survey conducted among Palestinian dental students in their clinical study years to evaluate their readiness to return to dental care provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 305 dental students from Al-Quds University (AQU) and Arab American University (AAU) completed the questionnaire in mid-May, 2020. Thirty-four percent of the current sample (n=103) perceived COVID-19 as very dangerous and 84.3% (n=257) believed that COVID-19 is a serious public health issue. Fifty-five percent (n=168) did not consider themselves prepared for this outbreak and 66.2% (n=202) did not think that their outpatient clinics’ infection control measures prior to COVID-19 are adequate to receive patients during this pandemic. Eighty-eight percent of the students (n=269) admitted to fear of transmitting the virus to family and friends. This fear was mainly related to their perception that standard precautions used in dental settings are inadequate and make it unsafe to deal with patients during the current pandemic (2= 50.45, p <.001). Thus, 82% of students (n=250) preferred to avoid working with COVID-19 suspected patients. This perception of unsafety related to the prior-to-COVID-19 infection measures also impacted the level of confidence these students had in dealing with COVID-19 patients (2= 25.8, p = ,.01). Only 26% (n=80) of the students had “considerable-to-great” level of confidence in handling suspected COVID-19 patients (Figure 1). It is obvious from current data that students’ confidence in handling COVID-19 patients and the fear of transmitting infection to family and friends were related to their perception of the inadequacy of standard infection control protocols used prior to COVID-19. Therefore, dental schools need to invest in the new infection control measures placed by national authorities, and adopted by universities as their new norm. As an example, AQU followed a very strict protocol in reopening their student dental clinics and ensured all advanced PPE needed to implement these protocols. This should be accompanied by periodic updating of students’ knowledge about infectious diseases and control measures.