Take aim at educators and state boards
Trisha E. O`Hehir, RDH
Our society has become "sue happy." We are so lawsuit-prone that some people will sue for any little thing. Although many cases are frivolous and provide no benefits to society, others may be warranted. Two areas related to dental hygiene, though, may benefit from the initiation of a malpractice lawsuit. They would, however, be filed by dental hygienists, not against them.
The first is the antiquated idea of requiring technical procedures on state board examinations and, specifically, testing those procedures on human beings. We have all taken, or are preparing to take, a state board examination in order to obtain a license. It is simply considered a necessary evil in today`s world. It is an obstacle to be overcome - a rite of passage.
Have you ever wondered why a doctor doesn`t have to surgically remove an appendix in order to get a license? Physicians don`t take clinical examinations the way dentists and dental hygienists do. If they graduate from an accredited school and successfully complete their national written boards, they are considered for licensure. A check of their history, specifically for any criminal record, and a personalized interview are conducted. That`s all it takes.
No patients have to give up vital organs for the licensing of physicians. It is assumed that successful completion of medical school indicates acquisition of the necessary knowledge and skills to treat patients without causing harm. The license, after all, simply confirms the holder to be a "safe beginner."
Is it still the cream of the crop?
Not so in dentistry. In years past, schools took pride in their graduates, knowing they were the "cream of the crop" - the chosen few who survived. They were considered ready for practice. My class of more than 60 freshmen finished with just over 30 graduates. That`s not to say the students who were cut from my class would not have made good dental hygienists. But in the 1960s, the faculty had the power to terminate students, often with little or no justification for such action.
The pendulum has swung so far the other way these days. Faculties are now under pressure to graduate all students accepted to a program. A natural shift in responsibility allows for state boards to weed out the unqualified, rather than terminating those students before graduation.
Let`s look at these boards from the patient`s perspective. Given whatever the failure rate has been, how many patients are out there right now with inadequate dental work and missed calculus?
Since the patients have not taken up this case, I think organized dental hygiene should file a class action lawsuit against every state board in the United States for malpractice! Board examiners knowingly let patients leave with dental work and dental hygiene services which are below licensing standards. They may send a letter to patients whose candidates failed, telling them to seek further treatment. But they still sent the patients away without adequate care. That`s malpractice.
Isn`t it time we moved away from the antiquated ways of the past and moved into the next century with more trust in our schools and universities? Shouldn`t we expect them to turn out qualified clinicians? As patient advocates, we should voice our opposition to the misuse of patients for state board examinations.
The `two-year` sham
The next area for a possible lawsuit is our educational system. After strongly supporting the role our schools play in the training of future dental hygienists, I am going to suggest that a great many of those institutions are actually guilty of educational malpractice. So the second lawsuit would be against the Otwo-yearO schools granting an associate?s degree in dental hygiene.
For many years now, we have been hearing about degree completion and articulation programs that enable Otwo-yearO graduates to complete a bachelor?s degree. Despite the programs available, many Otwo-yearO graduates remain without a bachelor?s degree ? due primarily to the fact that so many dental hygiene courses don?t count for anything.
Many Otwo-yearO graduates have actually completed three to four years of college. In order to receive a bachelor?s degree, though, they must go three to four more years. Associate-level hygienists would be more likely to seek a bachelor?s degree if they were not so severely penalized for their Otwo-yearO education.
Educational institutions should be held accountable for their responsibility in creating this situation. Community colleges are misrepresenting the Otwo-yearO degree. Prospective students are not told they will take many courses that are superfluous to them when pursuing a bachelor?s degree (but necessary for their dental hygiene education). They are not told how many credit hours, dollars, and hours of study will be worthless to them.
It is irresponsible of an educational institution to take a student?s money and time and not provide the appropriate return. Community colleges should not be allowed to offer Otwo-yearO degrees while asking students for more than two years in return. To do so is tantamount to cheating. It?s educational malpractice.
I can hear the arguments now. OBut it takes more than two years to cover all the necessary courses and clinical work. If we reduce the hours and credits for dental hygiene to a standard Otwo-year? degree, the education will be watered down, incomplete. They need all those hours and we just can?t give upper division credit for those courses.O
That?s exactly my point. Let?s be honest about it. Why are dental hygiene students required to take more courses than other students? Why are we calmly accepting the fact that hygienists pursuing a bachelor?s degree will have many more hours than those seeking a general studies degree?
Universities offering a bachelor?s degree in dental hygiene give upper division credit for all Othose courses.O Articulation should begin during the community college program, granting appropriate university credit toward the eventual completion of a bachelor?s degree.
To sue, or not to sue. Let?s hope these issues can be resolved without involving the courts. But then maybe a good strong lawsuit is just what we need.
Trisha E. O`Hehir, RDH, is a senior consulting editor of RDH. She also is editor of Perio Reports, a newsletter for dental professionals that addresses periodontics.