I don’t understand people very well. For instance, I don’t know why they aren’t always talking with their friends about my dental office and the amazing things we do for our patients. But let’s face it…most people only think about what we do when they’re in our office for a “cleaning” or filling.
So, why should the general public or our legislators be any different? They have a lot to do each day, and while oral health is important to all of us, it is simply one more thing in everyone else’s busy lives. Is it any wonder then that topics like mid-level providers and “access to care” come up? We scratch our heads and proclaim, “But they don’t understand….this won’t solve the problem!” And we are right — but that isn’t good enough.
There have been a lot of challenges and changes in dentistry recently. In the last few months, it has been exciting to see my colleagues’ growing interest in what is happening in our profession. For instance, I’ve heard from many dentists on the midlevel provider issue. I appreciate those who have well thought out concerns about the direction of our profession, but there are also many who are not members of our Association, have never attended a Dental Action Day, or been to a local component evening program. It takes more than just an email regurgitating someone else’s thoughts in a cut-and-paste form letter. These last few years have been a wake up call for us — the choice is simple — are you a healthcare worker, or a healthcare provider?
A healthcare worker shows up every day at the office and does a great job most of the time. They’re on top of things, do great fillings, perfect root canals, and can even squeeze in an emergency patient, while dealing with staff and management issues. They finish their day, “clock out,” and go home to their family. Sometimes they wonder why their concerns aren’t addressed, and why no one seems to understand how hard they work and what they do for their patients.
A healthcare provider does pretty much the same; the difference is that they’re also engaged in their profession. They join their Association and go to the local dental society dinner meetings. They volunteer and become involved in the society or perhaps a local dental charity. They attend Dental Action Day (DAD) in Olympia, and speak and correspond with their local elected officials throughout the year to educate them about dentistry and what it means. They are Ambassadors of Oral Health for their neighbors and patients.
One of our basic problems is that it is so easy to get lost in our office and not become engaged in our profession. When we do that we all lose. You lose out on the camaraderie, mutual support and knowledge to be gained by fully participating. Your profession loses out by having one less dental warrior out there fighting for the best approaches to oral health for our community.
For some reason, it has become acceptable to sit behind a monitor and fire off an email to get a point across, and once we hit send, we pat ourselves on the back, say, “Job well done, that will tell them,” then log off and go home. We don’t understand why those messages don’t always have their intended effect; after all, it was sent by a doctor! I am telling you, it isn’t good enough. Your message is important, deserves to be heard, and will have impact when you have chosen to engage your profession and personally interact in other ways with your colleagues and legislators.
Dentistry is under assault, and sitting by and letting someone else do the work and then complaining when your “voice” isn’t heard is no longer acceptable. This is not like a raffle where you “need not be present to win.” If you are not active and involved, you have no right to complain when decisions do not go your way. Your voice will be dismissed after the fact, but respected and considered if you have been involved in the process throughout, and rightly so.
In my component, the Seattle-King County Dental Society, we have around 1200 “active” members. Fewer than 70 frequently attend our programs, and usually it is the same 70 faces each time. Unlike a gym membership where they are kind of hoping you don’t show up, we’re hoping you do. Your component needs to stop hoping you will be there and be able to count on you being there.
Your mission is to choose to be engaged and then act on it. That means signing up for the Grassroots program, attending DAD, going to a local component society event, asking your fellow colleagues why they aren’t members of the Association and inviting them to join (especially the colleagues you work with). Pick one (or pick them all), but do something — get engaged, save your profession, stand up to be counted, and be proud of being a healthcare provider.