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Challenging the status quo: It's OK to question value of long-standing traditions in dental hygiene

July 21, 2016
JoAnn Gurenlian, RDH, explains why dental hygiene politics, even when a rift occurs, can be good for the profession.  

By JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, PhD

Politics makes for interesting lessons. Witness our national election. Months ago, the political pundits were dumbfounded that the leading contestant in the Republican campaign would be a businessman with no political experience. Predictions were that he would never get the delegates needed to win the party nomination and no one needed to take him seriously. And who would imagine that a Democratic Socialist would ask for small donations and give another candidate a serious run for her money? For the first time in a long time, the American public is actively engaged in this presidential election and may alter the course of history by examining this concept of delegates deciding elections. Change in national elections is most definitely upon us.

History making may also be happening within our own national organization and structure. By now, you may have read or heard about the situation with the California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA) and the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA). The leadership of the CDHA wanted changes to the constituent charter agreement with the ADHA. Unable to negotiate those changes, the CDHA leadership voted to sever ties with the ADHA. That decision was an audacious move in itself, considering the leadership did not consult its membership at the House of Delegates meeting prior to announcing the decision. What that implies is the leadership felt bold action was warranted.

The point of this column is not to judge the actions of the CDHA or the ADHA. Rather, it is to note the importance of challenging the status quo. Sometimes we are asked to sign off on a document, rubber stamp something, just keep moving with the tempo, and not ever question the customs. On occasion, however, maybe it is a good practice to stop and ask: Why are we doing this? Or, why are we doing something this way? Not that we need to disagree simply to disagree, but perhaps there is value in asking questions. Could we be doing something better than this or this particular way? Are there other options to consider? If the answer is, "This is the way it has to be," or "This is the way we have always done it," then perhaps taking a stand is appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with evaluating our position or questioning where we are and where we want to be. Growth and change have positive results. As we go through that journey, do so with an open mind, a spirit of learning, and a willingness to maintain two-way communication. In the end, what we want is something that is beneficial for our members and not a bitter rivalry. We can be savvy and strong negotiators, and walk away as supportive colleagues. This process occurs in business on a regular basis.

The situation between the CDHA and the ADHA is a good one. It probably woke up hundreds of complacent dental hygienists who were very happy to let a few colleagues do all the work. Now they are getting involved, learning the facts, forming an opinion, taking action, learning what their dues mean, or even paying dues-something they may not have done in a while. They are becoming energized and invested in their profession and their professional organization. Others may decide to let their dues lapse and leave CDHA or the ADHA. Some may talk about starting a whole new organization in California, one that better represents their interests. No matter what, the experience signifies the need for change, a revolution of sorts. The end result, just like this national election, is going to be fascinating. RDH

JOANN R. GURENLIAN, RDH, PhD, is president of Gurenlian & Associates, and provides consulting services and continuing education programs to health-care providers. She is a professor and dental hygiene graduate program director at Idaho State University, and president of the International Federation of Dental Hygienists.