Above and beyond
Beth Bradley is an Irish, soon-to-be-final-year dental student at the University of Leeds and current BDJ Student editor. Following a tough fourth year of study involving significant clinical sessions, revision and exams, she was keen to explore what dental professionalism meant to her
According to the General Dental Council’s (GDC) 2013 publication Continuing Professional Development for Dental Professionals, a dental professional will be “highly qualified and skilled whilst always accountable to a higher code of conduct”. Like any profession, dentistry possesses what the American College of Dentists (ACD) called, “a level of exclusive expertise”. Not only as qualified dentists but also as dental students, all behaviours should uphold the principles of the GDC Standards.
In this article I will explore dental student professionalism by discussing its ethical relevance, how we uphold professionalism within ourselves and with our patients, and how, in a world where teamwork is essential, we can attain the best professionalism possible.
By definition, a professional is governed by a higher standard of practice, and the 2013 GDC Standards outline the fundamental ethical principles that demonstrate how any dental professional must act. These standards, alongside the 2016 American Dental Association Code of Professional Conduct, represent a dental student’s obligatory behaviour. This obligatory behaviour can often be overlooked as we embark on university careers, where we are faced with a variety of new life choices and opportunities.
The Young Dentist (2017) indicated that to be deemed professional, the way in which a dentist/dental student acts should be deemed appropriate by members of the public and professional colleagues. Having felt this responsibility myself, I feel it is important to recognise the professionalism demonstrated by thousands of young dental students every year as we manoeuvre through the whirlwind of undergraduate training alongside peers, enjoying perhaps more frivolous carefree university experiences.
According to Trathen and Gallagher 2009, what sets a professional apart from others is a drive and devotion to strive beyond what they must do. It is important to consider that what an individual must do is often governed by fear of sanction or reprimand. However, what one ought to do is often controlled by a set of internalised and individual moral codes. So, as the ACD put it, a professional dental student should, throughout their scope of practice strive to pursue beyond what they must do to uphold the best interests of their patients. This may be through going the extra mile for a patient, booking in more clinical time or lab practice, or perhaps spending a few hours helping a colleague understand a specific lecture.
It is these little extras which set a true dental professional apart from the rest.
Our own professionalism should permeate all aspects of our training, through interactions with patients, clinical team and peers and in our own personal professional development.
The Young Dentist (2017) highlights that a dental professional will demonstrate:
- attention to detail
- a desire to seek development and enhancement of their skills
- a willingness to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes.
To me these traits are key elements of professionalism, and ones which I try to maintain throughout my studies.
As a young dental professional maintaining the patient’s and community’s confidence in myself and the dental profession is vital. I admire so many members of this profession and view preservation of its integrity as a key element of my own professionalism.
The GDC states that we should “maintain, develop and work within [our] professional knowledge and skill”. As a dental student I am responsible for my own learning and aim to have the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes of a registered dental professional. This can be achieved by actively seeking opportunities to develop a skillset and enhancing capabilities in addition to the required studying and taking of exams. Continuous professional development will hopefully provide essential up-to-date care for my patients in the future.
According to the GDC, dentistry as a profession requires excellent and effective teamwork to deliver exceptional patient care. Universities offer a vast array of opportunities for professional development. Through dental societies, clubs and the many extracurricular activities on offer, there are countless chances to develop teamworking, communication and organisational skills. As dental students we should harness these chances to enhance our professionalism.
The GDC dictates that a true dental professional must communicate effectively with patients with uncompromising veracity. Optimal communication skills necessary to build a successful rapport with a patient are an essential proficiency of any dental professional. A skill which must quickly be learned by any young dental student. A report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in January, 2015, indicated that “Poor communication [was] at the heart of many dental complaints”, highlighting the importance of maintaining professionalism regarding patients by ensuring continuous effective communication with them on every level, thus maintaining the vitally important patient satisfaction essential to a successful dental practitioner.
The best interests of the patient are central to any patient interaction and this concept is paramount to any treatment decisions. As you know, obtaining valid, informed consent from a patient for treatment is a vitally important facet of professionalism regarding patient care. As a dental student, by achieving sufficient consent for treatment, one exhibits a comprehensive knowledge of procedures, the ability to provide an unbiased presentation of the reasonable treatment alternatives and consequences, and the capacity to ascertain the level of competency of a patient.
I am sure every dental student knows that leadership qualities are an essential attribute for any dental professional, whether in a position of formal leadership or not. The Department of Health encourages a multidisciplinary approach to optimise patient management within dental school. This way all members of the clinical and educational teams engage to deliver the best possible patient care. We should have an in-depth knowledge of other disciplines’ skill set for appropriate referrals, hence working within our own skill set, and ensuring the best possible patient care by utilising connections within the service.
So, a truly professional dental student must abide closely to the laws and standards laid-down within the GDC’S Student Fitness to Practice and, as aptly described by Trathen and Gallagher: “A [true] professional must always seek to go [above and] beyond what one must do.”
Words: Beth Bradley