It’s positively time to be more respectful of our profession
Feeling unappreciated and undervalued? Well, it’s time to stop fixating on a small number of negative outcomes, celebrate our success and demonstrate our worth within the NHS and wider community
A new year, a new me. Isn’t that the way it goes? Well thus far, as Arthur, I’ve been erring a little on the negative side. I’ve decided, in the spirit of the new, to go for a positive spin.
I was talking to some dentists recently; it’s something I do from time to time although I try to keep that limited. (Note to self: stay positive). In conversation, and ignoring the usual gripes and moans, someone pointed out that we do OK. He was right. I think, fundamentally, dentistry is a good job. We do something quite remarkable and worthwhile. How many other people get to say that?
What does concern me is that, in line with almost the entire NHS, we are undervalued. Actually, I think that’s inaccurate. Like all the health service, we only hear stories about the terrible; mistakes, law suits, appalling waiting times, poor staffing and budget cuts. On the positive side, there are stories about world-beating advances, the spectacularly rare or long-shot positive results. This does not reflect the overwhelming number of procedures and interactions which simply go as they are supposed to. So what we are (the NHS) is misunderstood and therefore unappreciated for the enormously successful and varied work that is done in the name of healthcare. Not to mention free at point of delivery.
In dentistry, the vast majority of procedures are carried out satisfactorily with very low costs (compared to other western countries). The value for money for patients and the NHS is remarkable. From a technical point of view, the ‘average’ dentist has to be able to perform a staggering array of treatments to, nowadays according to the GDC, consultant/specialist level. (Keeping it positive.) And for the most part, we do. Patients can experience virtually all they need in dentistry in a high street dental practice. I don’t know the figures, but I’m pretty sure the vast majority of patients never have to be referred for specialist services. In this age of specialism, this may change, but for the foreseeable future this is likely to continue. This is a good thing for patients; they don’t have to go elsewhere or be inconvenienced and we get to have a wide and varied professional life with a variety of skills and processes.
On the people front, again, the vast majority of patients are pleasant and respectful of the job we do and the people we are. In working with the public, you have to take the rough with the smooth and I’m quite sure we get a better run than your average supermarket worker. I know the reception staff tend to get the brunt of complaints and abuse and when patients come into the surgery they are nice as ninepence. Surely that’s a positive too?
Kudos? Well, I think we often feel like the poor cousin in the medical world. I’m not trying to squeeze a pressure point. We do get some respect from our medical colleagues. It might be about our quality of life or the financial benefits we have. However, we didn’t have to undergo years of beasting by consultants, endless 70-hour weeks involving night shifts and being surrounded by sick people. Not to mention the actual life and death responsibility. (A polite note to our specialist dental/surgical colleagues: you probably had to endure all of this, sorry.)
Now financially, we do all right, don’t we? Let’s not be coy. We have to work pretty hard for our money and it certainly seems to be getting tougher in the public sector. I suspect it’s still a bit tight in the private sector too as dentistry probably exists at a pretty low echelon in the public consciousness when it comes to fiscal priorities.
We can afford nice houses, cars, holidays and why shouldn’t we? We are highly trained, multi-skilled professionals with an extraordinary capacity for persuading our fellow man (and woman) to go through some scary and unpleasant procedures for their medical benefit and all of this for a pretty much 9-5 job.
So to sum up, we do a very difficult but extremely worthwhile job. Caring for people, we build long-term relationships with patients in ways other healthcare providers never experience. We are skilled and respected professionals with the opportunity to own healthcare businesses.
We get paid pretty well for a 9-5 job. What we don’t tend to do is tell people this. We don’t remind one another. We have a horrible tendency to fixate on the small number of poor outcomes or interactions that don’t go well. As a profession, I think we should be more respectful of our position. We are, dare I say it, pretty lucky. However, much more importantly, we should find a way to communicate the value of the massively successful work we do. Demonstrate our worth within the NHS and wider community. Show our patients, the ones we have the long-standing relationships with, how we produce high-quality care. How we adhere to guidelines for ongoing management, treatment and premises with an exceptionally low profit margin. The trick is to do this without sounding trite or condescending. I think the
way to do this is with a positive approach to our