Some old files need to be carried from one cabinet to another. According to the grapevine, it`s a task performed with much cheerfulness by some office workers. But not here. I dawdle a lot, pausing to open up files and reflect on what a stupid kid I was a few years back. Only two things truly teach humility on this planet - flubbed golf shots and re-reading old memos that you wrote.
On this day, most of the files being moved preserve your answers to the Dialogue surveys that used to be published in this magazine. The files have not petrified yet, so I take frequent breaks to admire the candidness and honesty of the RDH reader.
A 1991 Dialogue survey on sexual harassment is the first to attract my attention. A sense of sadness washes over me. A number of those hygienists are now in other careers. They quit to get away from the harassment, and it often wasn`t a matter of moving to the next practice down the street. One wrote, "The dentists are generally a close knit group. So you don`t want to say anything about them, or you will not get another job." Another reader, who went into nursing, wrote, "It ruined my career. What would a future dental employer say if I told him I was sexually harassed? If he called my past employer, I`m sure he would be told all kinds of lies to keep me from being hired."
I pick up another Dialogue file. This collection of thoughts addresses child abuse. An infant with a "mottled face" and "a lot of petechiae" prompted one reader to notify her employer. "He left it up to me to decide if I wanted to report it or not. He chose not to be involved." Another reader who suspected child abuse wrote, "I reported my suspicions to my employers. They either did not share my suspicion or they were afraid to get further involved ... it disturbs me still."
After a few more minutes, I`ve settled back down in the chair. This time the voices of the past comment on recruiting people to join the profession. Although most readers were upbeat and positive about their career choice, one fading questionnaire sticks out. "My experiences with dentists have been negative. Dentists with integrity, who treat hygienists as respected professionals, who don`t have temper tantrums and throw things, who are not condescending, whose sole basis for survival is not production and greed, are rare, and, after 11 years, I`m back in school working on a new career."
I conclude this column by first pointing out that the Dialogue survey has been revived (page 20). If our article on sharps injuries (page 14) commands your attention on a personal level, I hope you`ll comment through the survey. But more importantly, I want to state my belief that hygienists are the consciousness of dentistry. Without a doubt, dentists do take their role as health care providers seriously. But the pressure that comes with silent and lonely thoughts such as, "Profit centers. Gotta come up with some," can inadvertently compromise the integrity of the most noble person. Dental hygienists, for the most part, are free from this burden. So speak out. Speak out here in RDH. Speak out in the dental community. It`s not the time to quit and run. The dental profession needs you, regardless of whether or not it admits it.