Who is rising to the top?

Feb. 1, 2004
I have found it fascinating during the past several years to watch members of our profession who have risen to positions of "key influence."

By Kristine A. Hodson

I have found it fascinating during the past several years to watch members of our profession who have risen to positions of "key influence." The grassroots' dental hygienists have given their support and enthusiasm to many speakers, authors, and consultants in dental hygiene. As an occasional recipient of such accolades, I often wonder: Does the "rising star's" intentions to champion dental hygiene, get ahead, seek public acknowledgment, or acquire financial gain sometimes create an "ethics gap?"

Whether you are a clinical or corporate hygienist, educator, speaker, writer, consultant, or aspiring "want to be" in any of these categories, our integrity and reputations are all we have. Our values govern our behavior and define who we are. Values set our barometer or priorities, and ethics set limits for our actions.

So whether you have the responsibility of recommending evidence-based self-care products to your patients, or have the privilege of writing for hygiene journals, or speaking from the podium, true professionals must adhere to a high standard of behavior.

Our desire to be up-to-date on evidence-based care can be a daunting task. Some estimates indicate a person would have to dedicate two full days a month to read every clinical dental study published during that month. This does not include lab studies or hygiene or dental articles such as those published in RDH and other publications.

There are many reasons why spending two days a month reading and evaluating research is improbable. We instead attain our knowledge from a few individuals who we trust and perceive as the "experts" or "voices" of dental hygiene.

What confuses me is that many dental hygienists who continually show integrity in their deeds; have a passion for understanding scientific methodology, conducting research, and educating the future of our profession; and who have academic credentials, clinical expertise and a solid knowledge base, are not elevated to "royal" status. I fear that dental hygienists are beginning to accept mediocrity or popularity as the standard. The researchers and educators remain humble, yet their work and voices are what members of the profession must see, hear and read.

I have conflicts with industry and corporate professionals who use a widely read magazine or a well-attended continuing education event to verbalize unsupported statements and recommendations. This is misleading and creates misinformation and confusion for those who may not have time to access clinical data, journals, Web sites, and research. Shame on us if our unquestioning trust in such "leaders" causes us to change our clinical behavior, services, and recommendations without appropriate evidence-based support. Clinical hygienists have developed critical thinking skills with regard to periodontal health. My challenge is to expand those skills in regard to the hygienists who are rising to the top in our profession.

How can you develop your critical thinking skills with regard to authors, speakers, and consultants? Start by asking the following questions:

• What are the credentials, expertise, and experience of the author/speaker/consultant?
• How honest is the author/speaker/consultant in presenting him/herself as an expert?
• Is the information presented the result of personal experience, subjective opinion, or evidence-based research?
• Was the purpose of the continuing education program or article to express an opinion, share an experience, sell a product, or share the findings of a clinical research study?
• Who or what company is supporting the article or program? Does the author/speaker/consultant disclose whether or not she/he is or has been compensated by the manufacturer?
• Does the author/speaker/consultant "walk the talk?"

I realize that by challenging readers not to be gullible with regard to "major players," I have painted a bull's-eye on myself and many of my colleagues. Yet I believe this topic, which I hope will continue to be discussed, may elicit at least three emotions:

1) Huh? What is Kristine talking about now?
2) Empathy, an ability to identify with the topic and develop a deep concern for the leaders or, more to the point, who is not and should be leading our profession.
3) Anger. If when examining standards of ethical behavior you become defensive or ugly towards the topic, ask yourself why. In a recent article from Professional Speaker magazine, Karen Lawson, PhD, CSP, wrote:

"When you look in the mirror, what do you see — unbridled ambition or strong integrity?
"When you look in the mirror, what do you feel — a cheap imitation, or authentic and real?
"When you look in the mirror, what do you say — 'get ahead at all costs' or 'choose rules of fair play?'
"When you look in the mirror, what comes to mind — self-centered and selfish, or trustworthy and kind?
"When you look in the mirror, do you like what you see?
"Only you can decide who you want to be."

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS, is the Northeast manager of professional education for Oral-B Laboratories. She is the author of Demystifying Smiles: Strategies for the Dental Team. She is known for her high-energy, high content how-to presentations and articles. She can be contactedat [email protected].