Vacuum learning carries risks for healthcare specialists

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Professional development (PD) plays an important role in expanding knowledge, keeping abreast of innovations and increasing the competence of individuals in any career. PD is particularly essential in the health field to maintain and improve standards of medical practice across the industry while maintaining a high-quality workforce.

As highlighted in a Business News Insider article, encouraging employees to seek PD once employed is part of a healthy business process. “[PD] monitors an employee’s willingness to contribute to a company in new ways, whether the company is pursuing a new strategy, expanding, or in need of change,” added Steve Hawter, vice president of learning and development at The Learning Experience .

In contrast, according to GoBankingRates, high turnover rates that exceed the common threshold of 18% can be detrimental to the company, as the cost of replacing an employee can fluctuate between 33% and 200% of that employee’s salary.

Todd Brook, CEO of the employee engagement platform Engagement Multiplier, further notes that 67% of costs are “soft costs” in project delays, added to the internal resources used in recruiting, hiring and training new employees.

By many accounts, the industry has warned of impending challenges to the healthcare talent vacuum.

Resources for healthcare specialists

The National Library of Medicine uses a methodology for making projections developed by the Health Resources and Services Administration about future health specialist shortages. Edward Salsberg, senior director of the Center for Workforce Studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and colleagues predict that by 2025 there will be a shortage of between 124,000 and 160,000 full-time physicians. While scenarios for future supply and demand were examined, including the expansion of graduate medical education (GME) training, the study predicts that supply will lag behind demand. “We could have a terrible crisis,” Salsberg added.

Since the pandemic, the healthcare industry has faced stressors and demands that have led to outages and efforts to increase the pool of professionals. According to a Mckinsey report, more than 30% of nurses are considering leaving direct patient care behind. This increases the need not only to fill vacancies, but also to ensure proper training of skilled personnel.

The healthcare void is being experienced across the industry, in all forms of patient care, from medical offices to dentistry. According to Marquette University and UCLA-trained professional Dr. Giri Palani has influenced results in the field as demands within the dental profession continue to rise. Part of the problem is a lack of training in implants. Dating back to 2004, repairing failed dental work has seen a 30% to 40% increase and represents a large portion of its current work.

Palani believes it is a problem that can be avoided through further education. “Learning in this job never stops, no matter how skilled you are,” says Palani. If dental professionals just committed to rigorous and continuous learning and knew their limits, it would save patients a lot of time, pain and money.

Continuous learning

Michael S. Reddy, DMD, and dean of the UCSF School of Dentistry, recently prophesied the benefits of lifelong learning and exploration as a path forward in the profession. “As a leading academic health institution, how can we make the transition from scalable efficiency to scalable learning to drive innovative thinking on a whole new level?” he asks. “If instead of focusing on doing routine tasks, we inspired everyone to discover the ‘passion of the explorer’, I can only imagine how much we could move forward together.”

Institutions such as the University of Minnesota, School of Dentistry are establishing programs to encourage continued growth and success as educators, clinicians, and researchers. The focus is on deep learning and biostatistics for mid-career health professionals. “It is important to recognize areas where we can improve and to be willing to keep learning. Lifelong learning is the cornerstone of the oral hygiene profession,” said Yvette Reibel, EdD, RDH, and clinical associate professor at the University of Minnesota and clinical director of the Oral Hygiene Department.

Active participation

Active professionals like Dr. Palani, who deals with cosmetic dentistry and recovering from incorrect work on a daily basis, are particularly interested in continuing to learn. “Even the best dentists in the industry understand that they don’t know everything,” says Palani. “Cosmetic dentistry is a niche of lifelong learning. New technologies, studies and procedures emerge regularly, and we need to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry.”

For people like Palani, learning starts early and grows from there. “As a young professional, I followed some of the best Oral Surgeons, Cosmetic Surgeons, and General Dentists in Beverly Hills, New York City, and worldwide,” he says.

“I would go to their offices and draw from their wisdom and experience. This was during my time as Chief Resident in UCLA’s Advanced Education in General Dentistry program. And for that, I learned from the best surgeons at Cedars-Sinai Hospital’s Hospital Dentistry Program.”

Humility and hunger for knowledge seem essential factors in the process. “Constant learning is key, but first there’s the learning, and then the practice, not the other way around,” says Palani. “While learning, make sure you can correct failed dental work. The demand for dental repair work is insane, and it’s something every dentist should understand.

Growing trend

A trend that is slowly gaining popularity is the in-house lab and hiring dental technicians as part of the process. For those in the business, the in-house lab increases the knowledge base requirements for all involved, including the support team and professionals.

“In the US, historically, only about 1% of dental offices have their own dental lab. Thanks to our in-house laboratory, we can design and manufacture complete dentures for our customers with a high degree of control over the process,” says Palani. “With an in-house laboratory, there is complete control over design, quality and aesthetics, leading to better patient outcomes. In addition, we keep abreast of the techniques and technologies that have helped us successfully treat many patients who were told they were not good candidates for dental implants.”


While steps are being taken in healthcare to increase attrition and fill opportunities, the need for more education appears to be key to maintaining standards and practices that ultimately impact patient care. Pinpointing the effects found in the cosmetic dental industry represents a microcosm facing the healthcare industry with new demands.

Up-to-date knowledge acquisition to meet patients’ just-in-time needs remains key to patient and study outcomes, but continuous learning for all workers in and within healthcare systems seems equally necessary.

According to Harvard’s continuing education department, professional development can play an important role in building a stronger team. The Harvard report also provides Clear Company statistics suggesting that 94% of employees would consider staying longer if more professional development opportunities were made available. The longevity of those with knowledge who remain within occupations is an added element to the equation.

For certain career professionals, constant learning is the key to better patient care and an enthusiasm that keeps the professional fire burning. “Cosmetic dentistry is a science, and like any other science, it never reaches a final state of wisdom,” says Dr. Jörg-Peter Rabanus of San Francisco.

Interviews have been edited and shortened for clarity.

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