There is a great need for leaders in the dental profession. As technological advances make our world smaller and our lives faster and more complex, we as a profession face challenges and opportunities that are evolving. Many of the changes in the scope and mode of practice will require new and different approaches. Meeting these challenges will require changes in how we as dental professionals do business; interact with our patients, other stakeholders, and health care providers; and educate our future colleagues. The purposeful incorporation of leadership education into dental and dental hygiene curricula represents an important departure from existing paradigms—but will help prepare our students to address these challenges.
Dental education was said to be at a crossroads fourteen years ago, and in most ways it is still. There is a shortage of dental leaders willing to challenge existing paradigms. Developing leadership skills entails many facets of life. Characteristics of a leader include, but are not limited to, being someone who is a strategic thinker; someone who comes to the table with good ideas and is willing to shoulder the burden of implementation; someone with a desire to seek the truth and a willingness to serve as a change agent; someone who serves the organization above self and is able to articulate a shared vision; someone with a willingness to address and manage challenges and conflicts in a positive manner; and someone with honesty and integrity. In dentistry, leadership would include running a practice effectively, but a willingness to serve as a change agent and participate in the broader social, political, and economic environment that affects our profession is also essential. Many areas outside of dentistry (the military, the airline industry, other parts of the corporate world, etc.) have begun to identify leadership qualities and are developing training methods to enhance them for members of their professions now, perhaps more than at any other time, there is a need for great leaders in dentistry and dental hygiene. As technological advances make our world miller and our lives faster and more complex, the oral health profession faces challenges and opportunities that are constantly evolving. Changes in the scope and mode of practice will require new and different approaches. Meeting these needs requires changes in how we do business, interact with our patients and other health care providers, and educate our future colleagues. It is certain that oral health research will produce new diagnostic and therapeutic options for our patients, while issues pertaining to public health, ways to deliver care and access information, ethical dilemmas, faculty shortages, and changing market forces will continue to affect our profession. But in these challenges there will be opportunities to break new ground to improve oral health and to improve the stature of the profession. It is here that our focus must remain.
Since the inception of the National Health Service (NHS), the dental profession in the UK has, to a large extent, been dominated by the politics of the NHS, by changing fee structures and contracts, by reports from the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB), and by strategies adopted by successive governments, especially during the last two decades. These strategies have resulted in cohorts of disillusioned dental practitioners reducing their commitment to, or opting out of, NHS contracts and committing themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, to private practice. It is now over three years since, for the first time, the proportion of dentistry provided under private contact in the UK, as measured by gross fees, exceeded that provided under NHS contract.
The profession has shown a remarkable lack of imagination in organising itself to provide the best kind of care for patients. Instead of being proactive and visionary, it has allowed itself to become a political football. This has led to the progressive deskilling of many practitioners, and a manifest failure to secure the long-term oral health of patients.
Leadership in the profession of dentistry begins at our educational institutions. This has always been true, and it is surely the case today. From the earliest days of students’ education, we are shaping their potential for contributions to clinical practice, research and teaching, and improvements in the health of the public. However, dental education’s collective vitality and capacity for contributions in research, education, and practice are at risk. Our system of education is requiring far too many sacrifices just to deliver basic education. It is becoming more and more difficult to make contributions in both practice and research.
The link to keep in mind is the direct connection between what is taught and what is practiced. Let us look at the three primary principles of the Macy study.
- Dentistry is a learned, self-regulating profession.
This principle is one of the most widely held tenets of the profession. It is predicated on specialized training that renders practitioners competent to provide services specific to our professional disciplines. Dentistry continues to stand out in a positive way compared to other self-regulating professions.
- Dental schools must be an integral part of a university, and a majority of dental schools must be based at research-intensive universities.
No one can deny that dentistry is in one of the most rapid periods of scientific and technological expansion, with vast implications for oral and systemic health. New findings and growing evidence place dentistry as a primary care entity, ever closer to medicine in diagnostics and clinical interventions. Molecular medicine will redefine what happens in health care.
- Dental schools must have adequate resources.
Finances and a growing lack of fit with the mission of the university contributed to dental school closures and continue to contribute to constrained resources and academic and programmatic isolation. Schools must not only demonstrate their value and contribution to the campus, but also to the community
Recommendations for Genera Dental Organizations
Recommendation 1: Inspire a Shared Vision
The daily challenge in health care is making a difference in the lives of others. Organizations who look into the future with thoughts and ideas of grandeur can lead others to make a difference through the realization of their own dreams through the organization’s common vision of the organization. Establish a mission, vision, and values statement. Frequently review with the dental team, realizing this document is living and constantly subject to amendments and changes from the leader and the team.
Recommendation 2: Trust
Trust is generally associated with individuals and rarely with organizations. When employees perceive trust in an organization, they invest themselves personally.
Employees become engaged and motivated when they perceive the leaders of the organization care for them personally and have their best interests at heart.
Recommendation 3: Recognition
Excellence is expected in health care professions. Recognition builds dental teams that are engaged in the process and seeking success. When challenges are present, the team becomes resilient to defeat, pulling together as a team in expectation of another victory.
Seaman, Cynthia L., D.M., Leadership in dentistry: An empirical phenomenological study of practicing general dentists in South Central Idaho UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX, 2008, 200 pages; 3399502 http://media.proquest.com/media/pq/classic/doc/1978204901/fmt/ai/rep/NPDF?_s=XJ%2FMs8Msd1DzOeG69KdmSUbxxl4%3D
Journal of Dental Education October 1, 2009 vol. 73 no. 10 1139-1143
Holt, Vernon P, Primary Dental Care, Volume 15, Number 3, July 2008, pp. 113-119(7) Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK)http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/fgdp/pdc/2008/00000015/00000003/art00011
Journal of Dental Education February 1, 2008 vol. 72 no. 2 suppl 10-13 http://www.jdentaled.org/content/72/2_suppl/10.short