The Charger Blog

School of Health Sciences Graduate Student Publishes First Academic Paper

Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH recently collaborated with her mentors on a scoping review of dental education practices during the pandemic, and she is looking forward to presenting their research at a conference in March.

January 28, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH meeting virtually with her mentors Robin Kerkstra RDH MSDH, and Karl Minges, Ph.D.
Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH meets virtually with her mentors Robin Kerkstra RDH MSDH, and Karl Minges, Ph.D.

As a dentist, Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH understands the challenges that dental educators and students have faced in providing and receiving practical training during the pandemic. She was recently part of a collaborative research project, a review of dental education practices during the pandemic, with two of her mentors at the University.

Rustagi’s first publication, “Dental education practices during COVID-19: A scoping review” was recently published in the American Dental Education Association’s Journal of Dental Education. Because dental schools around the world were forced to suspend in-person teaching due to COVID-19, Rustagi says it was critical to continue teaching didactic and clinical skills online, and to adopt innovative technology to continue educating and engaging students.

Acknowledging that it is difficult to replace hands-on clinical experience, Rustagi says that because of the pandemic – particularly given the uncertainty of how long it will continue and the possibility of future pandemics – it was important to explore new avenues of teaching. She says this is especially important because dentists and dental students are at a high risk of exposure to the virus.

“I believe this review will compel dental educators to rethink revising the dental curriculum,” explains Rustagi. “Educators can embrace new technological devices and strategies, virtual reality, simulation-based training, and artificial intelligence. This will ensure multiple forms of learning along with provision of the best treatment. It is important for professionals to adopt these alternative strategies as a part of the routine practice in all fields of dentistry to educate students.”

‘This project has opened new avenues’

Working with her mentors Robin Kerkstra RDH MSDH, and Karl Minges, Ph.D., MPH, Rustagi found full text reviews, drafted study protocols, managed data, and connected with authors of studies for additional information. Rustagi and her mentors meet weekly to coordinate and discuss the data collection and analysis, and Rustagi was part of the writing process.

“I feel fortunate to have worked with Professor Kerkstra and Dr. Minges, two of the most intellectual faculty members in our school,” she said. “It was an exceptionally amazing experience. They are always willing to share their knowledge, wisdom, skills, and expertise with me. They have always supported, motivated, guided, and boosted my morale. Also, I believe that their constructive feedback on my work has helped me improve my writing and critical thinking skills.”

Rustagi and her coauthors conducted an exhaustive literature search of primary peer-reviewed articles published between December 2019 and April 2021. After identifying more than 600 articles, they narrowed them down to the 41 that met their eligibility criteria and used those as their study sample.

"The most important thing I learned from them is to have a positive approach toward work and to never let obstacles act as a barrier toward achieving my goals."Khyati Anil Rustagi ’23 MPH

The paper, which aims to help foster understanding of approaches instructors have taken during the pandemic and suggest future applications of virtual learning, discussed advantages to conducting dental instruction online, such as lower anxiety levels and improved accessibility. It also identified barriers, including the possibility of a lack of student interaction and technological challenges.

“Even though data compilation, organization, and analysis took a lot of time, patience, and hard work on my part, the result has been encouraging,” said Rustagi. “This research has allowed me to explore new ways of incorporating technology to provide continued education during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, this project has opened new avenues that will help me in planning my future studies.”

‘An excellent example of research-in-action’

Rustagi says her work on the paper has enabled her to learn more about the virtual platforms and techniques used by dental schools around the globe, including Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and Mentimeter, which were among some of the best platforms they identified.

“It was a privilege to collaborate with Khyati on this research project,” said Prof. Kerkstra. “She offered a fresh perspective and demonstrated she is a gifted researcher. It's exciting to be a part of a collaborative research team that includes a School of Health Sciences graduate student, and we are hopeful this research has a large impact on best practices in dental education during COVID-19. The best part of our collaboration is the personal relationships we have built with each other.”

The paper, which also included Alyssa Grimshaw, MSLIS, IPI PMC, a clinical research and education librarian for Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library at Yale University, included recommendations such as validating novel teaching methods in online dental education, comparing traditional and virtual education by student grades, and increasing representation from dental hygiene and dental assisting programs to broaden the scope of virtual dental education.

“This paper is an excellent example of research-in-action,” said Dr. Minges. “With the omicron variant now dominant and the low vaccination rates in many communities and countries, we found that a focus on the pedagogical tools available to promote virtual learning options for dental programs is warranted.

“At the School of Health Sciences, we seek to incorporate students into all of our experiential opportunities, including faculty-mentored research,” he continued. “This provides an opportunity for students to excel both academically and professionally; it’s about making what you learn in the classroom come to life.”

‘They have always helped me learn and grow’

Grateful to her mentors for giving her the opportunity to attend the American Public Health Association’s virtual conference last year, Rustagi is now looking forward to presenting the results of the dental education practices review at the 2022 American Dental Education Association Annual Session & Exhibition in March.

“As this was my first publication, it will always be special to me,” said Rustagi. “The credit for this goes to my mentors, who allowed me to work with them and had faith, trust, and confidence in my capabilities.

“The most important thing I learned from them is to have a positive approach toward work and to never let obstacles act as a barrier toward achieving my goals,” she continued. “Furthermore, seeking and valuing everyone's opinion is very important. They have always helped me learn and grow into a better individual, both personally and professionally.”