Text over an image of the Bristol skyline. BILT Case Study. Patricia Neville, Jennifer Haworth, Peter Fowler Bristol Dental School
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Case study: The postgraduate educational environment at the University of Bristol Dental School Case study

This case study has been completed as part of a 2022/23 Education Development Project.


The University of Bristol Dental School currently hosts 4 post graduate training (PGT) programmes for 65 students. Two of the programmes are full time (DDS Orthodontics and MSc Oral Medicine) with both leading to specialist registration with the General Dental Council, while the other two are part time programmes (MSc Implantology and PG Certificate of Oral Surgery) both providing a qualification of special interest within general dental practice. Two additional PGT training programmes (MSc Periodontology and PG Cert Orthodontic Therapy) have only recently been commenced/approved so were not included in this study. 

This study was undertaken following a considerable disruption and subsequent change in teaching, research, and clinical supervision. These changes were initially imposed by Covid 19 restrictions, but some of these changes were subsequently carried over, resulting in an increased use of blended delivery of educational material. Further changes are anticipated for the PGT students as the dental school has recently developed an additional new facility with updated technologies and will soon be operating from two separate sites.    

The Practice 

No previous investigation has been undertaken into the educational environment of the PGT students at the dental school. As part of good practice and to establish a benchmark for PGT students’ perceptions of their educational environment a 2-part, mixed methods study is being undertaken.    

Part 1 of this investigation was undertaken to quantify the PGT educational environment at the Dental School using the Dundee Ready Educational Environment Measure (DREEM)1.   

Part 2 of this investigation involved qualitative assessments (interviews) of the PGT learning environment using the Critical Incident Technique focused on effective and ineffective related to clinical, research and academic learning experiences. 

The Findings 

Part 1. Online questionnaire.  

Responses were received from 34 PGT students (50.1% response rate) with representation from all 4 PGT programmes. There was an equal mix of sex (52.9% female) and ethnicity (52.9% white).  

The total DREEM scores suggested that the majority of PGTs perceive their educational environment at the dental school to be “excellent” (55.9%) or “more positive than negative” (41.2%), although one PGT’s (2.9%) total score suggested “plenty of problems”.  The highest scoring domains included the PGTs’ perceptions of teaching, learning and atmosphere, while the lowest scoring domain was social.      

When the DREEM domain scores were referenced to demographic/circumstantial characteristics of the PGTs, the lowest scoring occurred in the social domain for full time students, whilst the highest was in the teaching domain for female students. For total DREEM scores, the lowest median score   was from minor ethnic groups, while the highest median score was from females.  

The DREEM findings should be interpreted with caution. Although this measure has been used widely in undergraduate dental training its use has been limited in postgraduate dental training.  

It appears that although the teaching and learning environment were rated highly, the lower social scoring is highlighting potential deficiencies within the educational environment of PGT students at the dental school.  

While programme leaders will be pleased that the PGT courses satisfies students’ academic expectations, the social and affective aspect of PGT learning is less satisfactory. This finding is important because it connects with a wider university debate about the role of a sense of belonging and community to learning.    

Part 2. One-to-one interviews. 

Nine PGT students (5 male/ 4 female) were interviewed, with consensus thematic coding of the transcripts identified by two researchers.  There was consensus across all 9 participants that they had a positive educational experience as a PG at University of Bristol Dental School, with many struggling to list some of the challenges they encountered. Key effective themes included attributes of their clinical supervisors, research supervisor relationships and expertise of academic staff, while  ineffective themes related to issues on course workload and timing, as well as accessing group and online educational activities. 

Next Steps 

A review has been undertaken of the PGT educational environment at the dental school where alignment of common teaching across the different programmes will be undertaken to encourage greater interaction between the different PGT student cohorts and to incorporate shared social time/workspace/learning, where appropriate, that encourage a sense of belonging and community. In addition, improved curriculum mapping with timetabling to ensure theoretical learning is in place prior to practical training and that workload is even and appropriate. Now that the new school has recently become operational, increased access and use of the improved facilities and resources at the new school will also be planned for the PGT student cohorts. 

Elements of this study are planned to be repeated within the next 3 years as part of good practice and to monitor the impact of above proposed changes. The authors which to thank the members of BILT who have encouraged and supported this important study.  


  • Patricia Neville (patricia.neville@bristol.ac.uk) 
  • Jennifer Haworth (jennifer.haworth@bristol.ac.uk) 
  • Peter Fowler (peter.vincent.fowler@gmail.com) 
  1. Roff, S. U. E., et al. “Development and validation of the Dundee ready education environment measure (DREEM).” Medical teacher 19.4 (1997): 295-299. 
  1. Bingham, A.J., & Witkowsky, P. (2022). Deductive and inductive approaches to qualitative data analysis. In C. Vanover, P. Mihas, & J. Saldaña (Eds.), Analyzing and interpreting qualitative data: After the interview (pp. 133-146). SAGE Publications 
  1. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101 

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