Dentistry & Dental Hygiene

What is Professionalism?

“The good oral health care provider treats the disease; the great oral health care provider treats the patient who has the disease.” – adapted from Sir William Osler

• A profession is “an occupation whose core element is work based upon the mastery of a complex body of knowledge and skills. It is a vocation in which knowledge of some department of science or learning or the practice of an art founded upon it is used in the service of others.
• Its members are governed by codes of ethics and profess a commitment to competence, integrity and morality, altruism, and the promotion of the public good within their domain.
• These commitments form the basis of a social contract between a profession and society, which in return grants the profession a monopoly over the use of its knowledge base, the right to considerable autonomy in practice and the privilege of self-regulation. Professions and their members are accountable to those served and to society.”1

The Core Values of Professionalism include:
• Responsibility to your patients, society, the profession, and yourself
• Integrity and Honesty
• Altruism and Commitment to Excellence
• Compassion and Caring
• Respect for Diversity
• Respect for patient dignity and the healing function
• Dedication and Self-improvement
• Morality and Ethical Conduct
• Social Accountability
• Confidentiality
• Mindful and reflective approach to practice
• Responsibility to self, including personal care

Professionalism includes four key competencies.2 As dental/ dental hygiene professionals, we need to:

1) Demonstrate a commitment to patients by applying best practices and adhering to high ethical standards;
2) Demonstrate a commitment to society by recognizing and responding to societal expectations in health care;
3) Demonstrate a commitment to the profession by adhering to standards and participating in physician-led regulation;
4) Demonstrate a commitment to physician health and well-being to foster optimal patient care;

One of our central goals at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, is to help both students and faculty understand the values of professionalism, and continue to develop and refine their own sense of professional identity. Our sense of professionalism, or professional identity, is perpetually evolving; awareness of the factors that contribute to it will help guide its development.

It is the often times the lack of professional conduct, not inadequate knowledge or technical skills, that leads to complaints against oral health care providers. Unfortunately, the terms we use to explain professionalism are abstract and, therefore, hard to characterize; altruism, integrity, compassion, and respect are concepts that may be difficult to measure in practice.3 We need to make the recognition of professionalism overt and tangible such that we may improve care for patients and satisfaction for health care providers.
This website was created to help you understand that professionalism is a key component to our practice as oral health care providers. Through provision of definitions, case vignettes, and references, we hope to provide you with some real tools that you may then use to reflect upon your own professionalism, and that of those who surround you. These resources may help you with coursework, or challenges that you encounter in your clinical work, but they are also meant to help you to grow as a person.... a person who practices in their chosen field of endeavour.

1 "Profession": a working definition for medical educators. Cruess SR, Johnston S, Cruess RL. Teach Learn Med. 2004 Winter;16(1):74-6. PMID: 14987179
3 Defining professionalism from the perspective of patients, physicians, and nurses. Green M, Zick A, Makoul G. Acad Med. 2009 May;84(5):566-73. PMID: 19704188