By Dee Humphrey, RDH, BHSc
No one wants to hear they are unprofessional in their career, especially a dental hygienist. We each made it through a rigorous yet rewarding dental hygiene program that most of us will never forget. All the blood, sweat, tears, and anxiety that came with those first two years of school were a part of the process. Most of us can't forget those days because for some it was a real challenge, and for others a traumatizing experience.
I recall one of my dental hygiene colleagues saying, "It was boot camp without all the exercises." That still makes me laugh. I can still hear my instructors' voices saying, "Your ergonomics need serious help," and "Open those molar contacts." Nevertheless, those struggles are what made us who we are today. But are our expertise and professionalism being pushed aside by some? Say it ain't so!
Many years ago I came across the article, "The Professional Dental Hygienist" in Esther Wilkins' Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist 10th edition. It read, "A dental hygienist is a licensed primary health-care professional, oral health educator, and clinician who provides preventive, educational, and therapeutic services supporting total health for the control of oral diseases and the promotion of oral health."2 This strategic character of a qualified hygienist instantly became more than just a definition; it is a vocation that requires a specialized set of skills and knowledge for oral health while adhering to policy in maintaining high standards of conduct.2 We, as dental hygienists, are to be professional in all aspects of public and private life while providing the best standard of care for those in our communities. We are to encourage our fellow hygienists to help achieve success.
I recently had dinner with several hygienists who talked about something they saw on social media. It quickly turned into "Can you believe this?" and "Look at this picture!" I was embarrassed as they gasped and passed their phones. Then someone blurted out, "Hey, I know that girl!" Words cannot express how far I wanted to sink into my chair as I thought I would not have said that out loud or I would have pretended not to know her. The belittling comments about fellow hygienists' lack of skills, unauthorized posted pictures, and derogatory discussion about certain patient situations made me sad. We are all on the same team here! If one hygienist looks bad, then it likely reflects badly on us all.
Most of us have experienced office conflict and laziness, seen others' negligent care (that should embarrass everyone), been in competition with coworkers, experienced burnout, and treated noncompliant patients. But these are no excuses whatsoever to be unprofessional in or out of the dental office. It's discouraging to hear about unprofessional conduct in our field, and worse to see it on social media. We need to be strongly reminded of who we are-licensed professionals in the public eye. I completely understand as a fellow hygienist that we all have those days and certain patients may not be the most pleasant, but we need to remember to maintain the utmost respect for ourselves, others, and our profession.
We have a responsibility to be professional and adhere to high standards, especially on social media. I found some good and positive social media sites that are beneficial for our profession. As professionals, we should collectively contribute to making our profession better through education and research.
Let's be proactive and learn by offering solutions. It's unprofessional to give negative feedback, especially if it's not beneficial or damages someone's character. If you don't offer answers to life's difficulties, then more than likely you're part of the problem. Give positive encouragement, constructive criticism, and don't bash fellow hygienists. Remember, as dental professionals we are to adhere to a strict code of ethics, especially in all forms of communications regarding care of patients. According to ADHA's Code of Ethics Executive Summary, the Standards for Professional Responsibility: "We are obligated to practice our profession in a manner that supports our purpose, beliefs, and values in accordance with the fundamental principles that support our ethics." Look for positive outlets to vent frustrations outside of social media, and think twice before posting for all to see.
Not everyone can learn the skills and make it through the rigorous dental hygiene program. We must understand that we are licensed professionals and should not take our responsibilities lightly. We need to remember we are all on the same team, and our goal should be to push one another to the next level of success. We carry the letters RDH behind our names, and it should be held with the utmost respect because we have fought hard to get where we are today.
Let's remember that we have a higher calling to maintain standards that have an enormous ability to change lives. We all need to become part of the amazing group of hygienists who truly want to see our profession succeed. Put the "pro" back into professional and become one another's No. 1 fans. RDH
The American Dental Hygienists' Association defines "Standards of Professional Responsibility" in its bylaws for Code of Ethics. Here is an excerpt from that section of the code, edited to reflect what is stated in this article:
We are obligated to practice our profession in a manner that supports our purpose, beliefs, and values in accordance with the fundamental principles that support our ethics. We acknowledge the following responsibilities:
• Avoid self-deception, and continually strive for knowledge and personal growth.
• Establish and maintain a lifestyle that supports optimal health.
• Assert our own interests in ways that are fair and equitable.
• Seek the advice and counsel of others when challenged with ethical dilemmas.
• Have realistic expectations of ourselves and recognize our limitations.
• Develop collaborative professional relationships and exchange knowledge to enhance our own lifelong professional development.
• Support the efforts of others to establish and maintain healthy lifestyles and respect the rights of friends and family.
• Provide oral health care utilizing high levels of professional knowledge, judgment, and skill.
• Serve all clients without discrimination and avoid action toward any individual or group that may be interpreted as discriminatory.
• Hold professional client relationships confidential.
• Communicate with clients in a respectful manner.
• Promote ethical behavior and high standards of care by all dental hygienists.
• Serve as an advocate for the welfare of clients.
• Recognize that cultural beliefs influence client decisions.
• Conduct professional activities and programs, and develop relationships in ways that are honest, responsible, and appropriately open and candid.
• Encourage a work environment that promotes individual professional growth and development.
• Manage conflicts constructively.
• Support the efforts of other dental hygienists to communicate the dental hygiene philosophy and preventive oral care.
• Promote human relationships that are mutually beneficial, including those with other health care professionals.
• Conduct professional activities and programs, and develop relationships in ways that are honest, responsible, open, and candid.
• Respect the employment rights of our employers and employees.
• Participate in the development and advancement of our profession.
• Avoid conflicts of interest and declare them when they occur.
• Seek opportunities to increase public awareness and understanding of oral health practices.
• Act in ways that bring credit to our profession while demonstrating appropriate respect for colleagues in other professions.
• Promote a positive image for our profession.
Source: ADHA Code of Ethics
Dee Humphrey, RDH, BHSc, is a prevention specialist clinical hygienist who provides preventive care and treatment services at a community dental clinic in Jay, Oklahoma. She speaks about tobacco prevention and several other topics at many public schools within a tristate area. Her dental hygiene degree and bachelor of science were earned at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Missouri.
1. Darby ML, Walsh MM. Dental Hygiene Theory and Practice. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Saunders. 2014. Chapter 64: Legal and Ethical Decision Making, ADHA Code of Ethics Executive Summary (Box 64-1).
2. Wilkins E. Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, 10th ed. Philadelphia: PA. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Wolters Kluwer Health. 2009. Pg 4.