Education for Health

: 2013  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 71--72

Building a different future: Constructing hope and peace in Syrian dental education

Robert F Woollard 
 Professor, UBC Department of Family Practice, David Strangway Building, 300-5950 University Boulevard, Vancouver BC V6T 1Z3, Canada

Correspondence Address:
Robert F Woollard
Professor, UBC Department of Family Practice, David Strangway Building, 300-5950 University Boulevard, Vancouver BC V6T 1Z3

How to cite this article:
Woollard RF. Building a different future: Constructing hope and peace in Syrian dental education.Educ Health 2013;26:71-72

How to cite this URL:
Woollard RF. Building a different future: Constructing hope and peace in Syrian dental education. Educ Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2022 Oct 6 ];26:71-72
Available from:

Full Text

In this issue of Education for Health, we are graced by a thoughtful paper by Dr. Mayssoon Dashash providing insight and advice about the role that Community Oriented Medical Education (COME) could play in the future of dental professional education at Damascus University. This is worthy of our serious attention because its implications extend well beyond dental education and well beyond the borders of Syria. Why is this so? Beyond dental education because all of us involved in the education of health professionals need to turn our efforts to ensuring that the results of our efforts are relevant and effective in providing health services, which have a positive impact on the health of the people we all serve. Beyond Syria because the entire world needs to better build hope, peace, and constructive concern for one another as an antidote to the despair that breeds the destructive conflicts that characterize too much of our discourse and too many of our actions throughout the world.

All too often, the discord and violence happening in any given nation is magnified in the global consciousness to the point that the underlying decency and humanity that characterize the bulk of human history and the cultural contributions of such nations and peoples gets pushed aside. It therefore behooves us to take a longer view and know that all wars end and are followed by periods, sometimes long periods, of peace and constructive human endeavor. But periods of peace do not happen by accident and are not simply due to our exhaustion at killing one another. The authors of this paper show that, even in the midst of remarkable violence, constructive, purposeful, and effective action can lay the foundations for a different future - one marked by responsible caring for one another rather than irresponsible indifference to the welfare of others.

The work that they outline is grounded in the principles of social accountability and the World Health Organization's vision of "Health for All.0" While the general shape of these visions and principles has a long history going back to the1970s and the Declaration of Alma Ata, [1] it was in the past decade of the past century that they were more fully articulated and more formally adopted as policy directions at a number of scales throughout the world. But even fulsome statements have not been translated into consistent and effective action in many places. This is particularly true in the face of the "explosion" of medical knowledge and technology as the health professions have become increasingly specialized, expensive, and technology dependent. The momentum inherent in these trends has carried us to the place where health education has been focused on producing highly technically competent practitioners (see van Dalen's essay on this point, also in this issue). This has been accomplished quite successfully-even if the distribution of such services is far from equitable. This is necessary but, as the current authors point out with regard to Syrian dentistry, technical competence by itself is insufficient. They are not alone in this. The major American academic leader and thinker, Ernest Boyer, conducting a review on behalf of the Carnegie Foundation said:

"The crisis of our time relates not to technical competence, but to a loss of the social and historical perspective, to the disastrous divorce of competence from conscience."[2]

The authors of the present paper provide a clear articulation of how the mismatch between dental training and the needs of Syrian society for dental healthcare are at variance and outline how the proposal for curriculum reform that embraces COME is likely to move the graduates toward the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will address this mismatch.

There is good reason to believe that this might be true. Increasing attention is being placed on the need for better impact of academic health institutions on the health of populations. [3] The nature of socially accountable medical schools has been defined in greater detail by a Global Consensus for Social Accountability (GCSA) of medical schools [4] The situational analysis and recommendations of the authors with regard to the dental school at Damascus University are entirely in keeping with this and they trenchantly observe that the direction they outline would apply to all health professional schools. More importantly, they provide a fairly detailed road map of how to move curriculum and educational institutions toward this end. They anticipate and address the numerous objections that may be raised in the process of change they advocate. They thus provide a potential example of how the world-wide trends in the rhetoric of social accountability, community engagement, and responsiveness can be translated into practical action in a difficult context.

The paper also addresses and additional and crucial dimension - that of the relationships and political/organizational engagements necessary for longer term impact. They point out:

COME is a powerful tool. However, success and continuity of COME heavily depends on the coordination between Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Health.

This is entirely consonant with the observations of another global initiative that outlines the necessity of just such interdependence of the health and educational sectors around the world if we are to create effective new health professionals for the 21 st century. [5]

In fact the requirement for collaboration goes beyond this and the authors again outline the manner in which the school must engage policy makers, accreditors, [6] academic leadership, and others in order to be successful. This is in keeping with the "partnership pentagram" outlined in the WHO publications in this realm [Figure 1].

It is through these multiparty relationships and collaborations that success will be achieved, with the community, embraced through COME and the presence of the students, as the bedrock for relevance, effectiveness, and ultimately impact of the graduates.

Dr. Mayssoon Dashash have provided a specific example of how a number of world-wide trends and aspirations could be translated into specific actions in a particular place. We can only hope that the partners necessary for those actions to succeed will respond with the creativity that the authors have shown. For this we can all be grateful that they all may achieve this in the difficult context in which they now work should inspire us.


1International Conference on Primary Health Care,
Alma-Ata, USSR, 6-12 September 1978. Available from: [Last accessed on 2012 Aug 13].
2Ernest L. Boyer scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Jossey-Bass; November 1997.
3Woollard B, Boelen C. Seeking impact of medical schools on health: Meeting the challenges of social accountability. Med Educ 2012;46:21-7.
4Global Consensus for Social Accountability of Medical Schools. Available from: [Last accessed on 2010 Aug 12/13].
5Frenk J, Chen L, Bhutta ZA, Cohen J, Crisp N, Evans T, et al. Health professionals for a new century: Transforming education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world. Lancet 2010;376:1923-58.
6Boelen C, Woollard RF. Social accountability and accreditation: A new frontier for educational institutions. Med Educ 2009;43:887-94.