Professionalism in dentistry
Professionalism has been defined as the conduct, aims or qualities that characterise or mark a profession or a professional person. Literature pertaining to health care suggests that professionalism is a competency that can be taught, developed, measured and assessed. Nevertheless, it can be argued that professionalism extends beyond the scope of clinical knowledge and skills and is most certainly multifaceted.
Professionalism includes working within a regulatory framework with adherence to ethical practice; situational judgement and awareness; the ability to interact and communicate with patients as well as inter-professionally; and the commitment to continually enhance and improve the knowledge, values, skills and understanding required to provide consistently high-quality dental care.
As every dental professional is aware, continual development and progression are essential in every part of the industry. However, with the rapid advancements we are seeing year on year, it may not be possible to keep abreast of everything. As such, practitioners should at least make the effort to be familiar with clinical and technical innovations that may potentially affect their practices. While this may seem like being a perpetual student, it is the personal responsibility of every dental professional to remain up to date with all the relevant skills and experience they need to maintain clinical competency, as well as gain confidence in those acquisitions in order to strengthen their professional judgements.
Continual development and progression also enable practitioners to build on their abilities and capabilities to pursue a particular area of interest or to strengthen their treatment portfolio. For example, the demographic of a practice may reveal high periodontal disease rates, which would mean that enhancing skills in this area would be advantageous for both the clinician and the dental practice. Alternatively, with the rising demand for areas of dentistry such as short-term orthodontics and aesthetic solutions, some practitioners may wish to extend their expertise into these areas. Nevertheless, learning how to apply skills, knowledge and experience to treatment with sound judgement is critical to the provision of professional dental health care.
Judgement, at its simplest, is forming an opinion. Yet, when applied to dental care, it becomes part of a process that involves weighing up all the clinical facts and treatment options with their advantages and risks, as well as interaction between the practitioner and the patient, to come to the most appropriate method for treatment.
Most would agree that well-informed, engaged patients are in a stronger position to decide between treatment options and are more likely to take ownership of the final treatment decision and results. Research suggests that patients seem to prefer this collaborative approach, with the patient and the dentist equally sharing responsibility for decision-making. Consequently, practitioners require interpersonal competency to communicate with and relate to patients by listening, understanding, and providing complete and honest information. For instance, discussing a treatment plan step by step can help the patient to understand and appreciate the reasons for and the health benefits of each procedure. Fundamentally, this enables the patient to make an informed decision before consent and, by developing a plan of action together, the patient–practitioner relationship is enhanced with trust and confidence, and this is more likely to result in patient satisfaction.
This does not necessarily mean that one practitioner should be able to perform all areas of treatment. Part of acting with professionalism is the ability to recognise our individual capabilities and acknowledge that there will always be cases that are beyond our skills or the technological parameters of a practice. This could be due to the particular needs of the patient or the complexity of the treatment required. Yet, whatever the reason, having the professional judgement to refer a patient to another dental professional with the relevant skills and facilities is essential. By requesting the skills and services of clinicians that perhaps specialise in a specific area of dentistry or by utilising the advanced technology of another practice, it is possible to add value in terms of accuracy and outcome, but it also extends the scope and professionalism of the practice.
When it comes to referring patients, it is of course imperative to work with dental professionals that can be trusted to deliver first-class dentistry. It is a good idea to look around. The London Smile Clinic, for example, is a dedicated referral practice with a team of highly qualified dentists that strive to provide a five-star dental service to referring dentists and their patients. As a centre of excellence in dentistry, the clinic offers an efficient and streamlined pathway for all types of complex treatment, including endodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics and implants. Above all, the London Smile Clinic recognises how important it is to work with professionalism as part of the referring dentist’s team.
Developing the trust of patients is one of the most important attributes of professionalism. As all practitioners know, patients’ well-being should always be put ahead of costs or any other considerations. When patients trust a practitioner’s professionalism, competency and judgement, they are more likely to seek dental services, comply with treatment and recommendations, and return for further appointments. Furthermore, referring strengthens the professionalism of the practice and team.
Editorial note: A complete list of references is available from the publisher.