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    The Professional Journey: A Dental Student Perspective

         When characterizing a profession, it is a common bias to define professionals as individuals dedicated primarily to provide a service and secondarily to make money. While these claims provide fair reasoning about what should govern a profession and motivate a professional, they do not define what it means to be a professional. A professional in the traditional sense is a member of a profession, which is a vocation, who is entitled to privileges of membership and income. In the scope of dentistry, professionalism encompasses a set of values, behaviours and equal power relationships that signify the public’s trust for practitioners (Callahan, 1988). Dentistry is a vocation in which the dentist’s knowledge, clinical skills, and judgement are put into the service of protecting and restoring human quality of life. Its purpose is realised through the patient-dentist partnership and is based on respect, fiduciary responsibility, and accountability (Royal College of Physicians, 2005). The purpose of this essay is to discuss the evolution of professionalism, the obligations of the dental professional and to elucidate actions the dentist can take to develop his or her professionalism in practice and life.

                The dental profession holds a place of public trust and as a result privilege that is not available to all members of the public is extended to the profession. In response to this privilege the profession extends this commitment to its members by implementing a code of ethics supporting high standards of care that must be adhered to (Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, 2020). Continued trust is maintained through the role of individual dentists exercising these high standards of care in practice. Thus, the role of the dental professional school in guiding future students with specific knowledge is critical. As Socrates identified in Agora, it is not only about specialization of knowledge but looking into the affairs of others (virtue) to examine his or her best interests (Lesher, 1987). Through an interview with Dr. Amadeo Parissenti, a renowned scientist and medical school professor, a professional should have a sense of detachment or primary orientation towards community interest and not self-interest in order to eliminate bias in decision making:

    Being a professional to me means conducting all of your business with integrity in a thoughtful, objective, collegial, and ethical manner, without interference from personal, political, social, or religious considerations. Decisions are made, where possible, based on an objective assessment of evidence, but also with consideration of how social factors may impact on the achievement of desired goals. (Parissenti, 2020)

    Professionals are asked to help individuals in a particular area applied in one’s life. They characterize an attitude towards collaboration and an approach to work that reflects competencies of the profession. Sometimes challenges present in the social and political realm stressing the importance of inter-professional collaboration through professional organizations. Together professionals can unite perspectives and ideas to tackle barriers on environmental issues revolving around waste management and work towards improving access of oral health in rural communities with government. Dr. Parissenti for instance is a professor at three leading Canadian universities but his professionalism and expertise extend to organizations including the American Association for Cancer Research and the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Group. Together his obligations are not just rooted in training future scientists, physicians and medical researchers but also in developing new diagnostics to effectively diagnose cancer patients and manage their care. In dentistry, the dentist’s obligations are not only to educate prevention and advocate for patient oral health but to drive innovation, research and make compelling arguments for favourable public health policy. As Dr. Parissenti described “the health interests of the person or group for which you are advocating must be your primary concern… a health professional must always abide governmental and organization policies and guidelines when advocating.” This stresses why it is important for the dentist to be actively involved in organizations such as the Royal College of Dentists and participate in Continued Professional Development recommended by the Canadian and Australian Dental Association in order to maintain individual knowledge for advocacy, advance literature in the profession, and participate in policy development (Friedman, 2013). As mentioned previously the privilege is bestowed upon these organizations to support goal attainment of the professional and the public. Overall, the obligations of dental professionals in line with associations are to preserve autonomy, exercise beneficence and leverage resources to improve quality of life for patients and community (Australian Dental Association, 2020). When developing a professional identity in the community it is important that the dentist evaluate what actions are best to take for him or her and the practice. Popular organizations such as Gordon Training International provide programs such as Leadership Effectiveness Training to further enhance professional soft skills (Gordon, 2001). Networking opportunities such as conference attendance or association events can also provide advantages such as private information sharing, access to new skills and power attainment (Uzzi & Dunlap, 2005). These advantages can be further be extended to the professional practice to benefit business transformation efforts, care delivery systems and process innovation.  When discussing with Dr. Parissenti what resources he uses to build his professional identity he specifically focused on professional and academic social media. Platforms such as LinkedIn and ResearchGate are transforming how we are able to communicate and connect with people around the world by improving accessibility and immediacy worldwide (Johnstone, 2016). Thus, the dentist should be aware of social media modalities and appropriate use to connect with professionals alike and allow others to connect with his or her professional identity. It is through collaboration, communication, tool creation and resources mediated by organizations and the profession that the dentist may leverage to overcome any adversity in practice and life.

    This essay explored the evolution of professionalism from public trust to the role of the occupation in which the professional practices. It supports the obligations of dental professionals which can be simplified to principles of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice. Lastly, it examines how the dentist can take action in developing and channeling professionalism in practice and life through modern modalities and human connection. Regardless of the medium, whether it be in health practice, philanthropy or volunteerism, I define a professional as a true leader who empowers others to learn more, dream more and become more.

    Source: Adriano B. Brescacin, First Year Dental Student at Melbourne Dental School

    References:

    Australian Dental Association (2020). Policy Statement 5.15 – Consent to Treatment (Including ADA Guidelines for Consent for Care in Dentistry. (n.d.). Retrieved 19, 2020, from https://www.ada.org.au/About/Code-of-Ethics/ADA_By-LawsII_Code-of-Ethics_01022018.aspx

    Callahan, J. (1988). Professionals and clients: Models and metaphors. Ethical issues in professional life, 87-105.

    Friedman, A. L. (2013). Continuing professional development: Lifelong learning of millions. Routledge.

    Gordon, T. (2001). Leader effectiveness training, LET: Proven skills for leading today’s business into tomorrow. Penguin

    Johnstone, M. J. (2016). Privacy, professionalism and social media. Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal23(7), 23

    Lesher, J. H. (1987). Socrates’ disavowal of knowledge. Journal of the History of Philosophy25(2), 275-288.

    Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (2020). RCDSO Code of Ethics. (n.d.). Retrieved 19, 2020, from https://www.rcdso.org/en-ca/rcdso-members/your-responsibilities/code-of-ethics

    Royal College of Physicians. (2005). Doctors in society. Medical professionalism in a changing world. Clinical medicine (London, England)5(6 Suppl 1), S5.

    Uzzi, B., & Dunlap, S. (2005). How to build your network. Harvard business review83(12), 53.

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