Mark Hartley, Editor
Of the many hygienists that I`ve become newly acquainted with during the past year or so, I doubt anyone has had more influence on me, the magazine, and its readers than Jane Weiner. We featured this marvel from Florida in the May 1998 issue. She pushes buttons - mine, transplanted hygienists (who have to retake exams), and other voices out there who would otherwise be unheard if Jane Weiner wasn`t around. Usually, when somebody pushes my buttons, I adopt an unflattering, unprintable nickname for the individual. But, to borrow loosely from Jack Nicholson`s line in As Good As It Gets, Jane just makes me want to be a better editor.
She wrote me recently about her concerns over preceptorship. As always, this annoying little political mosquito is buzzing about. So I gladly include her letter in this issue, and I encourage you to read it, since, unlike her usual habit of helping others out, she`s asking you for help this time. It starts on page 10.
She raised the question of whether RDH will also help, as in focus attention on preceptorship. The short answer is, of course, yes. If any reader wishes to make observations about individual dentists training apprentices during downtime in every hygiene operatory scattered along Main Street - bypassing traditional, established modes of dental hygiene education - put it on paper. We`ll print it.
As is the case with me, though, I`m known for some long-winded answers.
For starters, it is my observation that the American Dental Association has its own problems. Hardly a day passes by when we don`t hear dentists groaning about how the association fails to deal with real-life issues affecting dental practices across the country. They`re not shy about voicing these complaints. To its credit, the ADA has attempted to rebound with a series of think-tank-like conferences - aimed primarily at younger dentists.
Last time I heard such numbers, though, ADA membership was declining. It`s hardly an era of robust and loyal allegiances to trade associations. People find the option of straying away from bureaucrats` marked trails to be adventuresome (and maybe not as expensive).
The ADA has resorted to a sort of empowerment style of management. Rather than a centralized blitz that forces whatever agenda dentists have for hygienists, the House of Delegates will pass a very insulting resolution or two every October. The resolutions always seem to imply that a cab driver from a Third World country can become a hygienist with just a couple hours of training at the hands of a general dentist. Then, a few minutes later, another resolution will pass that proclaims hygienists to be a "star" of the dental team.
What can you say? Some dentists are friends of dental hygiene. Others shouldn`t be allowed to manage a greasy hamburger joint.
It may appear to be good news that ADA resolutions seem ridiculous and haphazard. But remember that word from above - empowerment. The resolutions are more like a preacher extending his blessings to deacons so that they can wreak havoc in the name of the "church." In this case, state dental associations are the deacons. Unfortunately, the bad news is that state dental associations win most of the battles that they initiate with hygienists.
In the final analysis, what do the victories mean (besides the obvious blow to professional pride)? Small numbers of hygienists attain their license through preceptorship in Alabama. Small numbers of dental assistants are intrigued by the prospect of practicing hygiene in rural western Kansas, courtesy of an abbreviated training program. Overall, the tradition of hiring well-trained hygienists to administer excellent care works very well and is what appeals to most dentists.
But Jane is right. It`s the principle of what preceptorship stands for that needs to be countered. You need to assist your peers in remaining vigilant against attempts to demean the profession and harm the public. Stay in touch with each other, and make sure the residents in your communities understand what the potential long-term effects of preceptorship are. As she states, the media is a good place to start. As far as RDH is concerned, you have our commitment to address the issue.
Editor Mark Hartley can be contacted at [email protected]