Dental regulator seeks meeting with University of Hong Kong students to clear air over mandatory internship proposal

Hong Kong’s dental regulator has called for a meeting with aspiring dentists at the city’s oldest university, a day after the latter raised concerns about a lack of communication concerning a proposal requiring them to intern at public institutions.

Dr Lee Kin-man, chairman of the Dental Council, also came under fire at a Legislative Council bills committee meeting on Friday for failing to address perceived weaknesses in the curriculum provided by the city’s sole dental school, located at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), for 10 years.

The government has proposed amending legislation to require the school’s graduates to intern at public institutions for a year before they can register as dentists.

Health authorities on Tuesday noted the council had previously expressed concerns about the lack of clinical experience among local dental students.

Addressing the concerns, Lee said: “When the government issued its press release, the urgency of the matter had already reached its peak, so I proactively wrote to the University of Hong Kong to demand a meeting with its students.

“I hope this exchange with the students can be done as soon as possible, so we can offer an in-depth explanation.”

In an open letter published on Thursday, some of the city’s dental students complained about a lack of information on how the proposal would work.

They also urged authorities, the council and the university’s faculty of dentistry to hold open talks about the arrangement, including a time frame for its implementation.

“Dental students are unclear about the details, results and changes made in the accreditation exercise, and the faculty of dentistry has not provided any explanation or report to dental students regarding the accreditation exercise,” they said.

Council chairman Lee on Friday said the university was already organising a meeting.


Lengthy dental queues for Hong Kong’s low-income people

Lengthy dental queues for Hong Kong’s low-income people

Lee also sought to address criticism about the lack of communication, saying any concerns from the council about the school curriculum would be relayed to the university rather than directly shared with students.

“Of course, when it comes to communication between the faculty and students, this is the role of the faculty,” he said.

“On various occasions … we have told the university that they must remain in communication with students.”

The government also noted on Tuesday that the council only recognised HKU’s undergraduate dental programme on a “conditional basis” as a result of reviews from between 2019 and 2023.

Reviews dating back as far as 2014 were also critical of the faculty and its curriculum, it added.

Lee later said it was a “reasonable expectation” for students to want to know more about the results of the regulator’s reviews of the dental school’s curriculum as soon as possible.

Concerns were raised about the dental school’s curriculum as far back as 2014. Photo: Handout

At Friday’s bills committee meeting, legislator Chan Wing-kwong slammed the council for “tolerating an evildoer” over its failure to swiftly address concerns over the curriculum that were first raised back in 2014.

“In these 10 or so years, what is the communication between the Dental Council and the faculty of dentistry like?” the lawmaker said.

“Why wasn’t the Dental Council more forceful in doing their work to make the faculty accept its suggestions … why did the council not do their work? If they did not, it would be tolerating an evildoer.”

Bills committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said concerns about professional requirements should never have dragged on for so long and urged the council and authorities to step in as soon as possible.

“We should never let demands by the Dental Council or demands surrounding professional services go back and forth for 10 years, eight years, not even 20 years,” he said.


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