Page 3 - Bulletin Spring 2015
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Registrar’s Message
DR. MARCEL VAN WOENSEL
REGISTRAR, MDA
Some of you may be aware an issue developed at Dalhousie University where students in the graduating class have allegedly made statements on social media derogatory to classmates and women.
There can be no condonation of the language or activities that were occurring at Dalhousie. A serious investigation and appropriate disciplinary action is necessary. Viewing this as an isolated incident perpetrated by idiots or monsters may overly simplify the situation. It avoids a broader discussion on our individual and collective responsibilities in creating and maintaining an environment where individuals assume this is acceptable. In identifying and focusing on a “villain”, it allows us to avoid comparing our own actions and attitudes.
To a greater or lesser degree, we all have a tendency to objectify or dehumanize certain situations. Whether intentional or inadvertent, private insults or public mocking of an individual’s physical appearance, gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or nation of origin should have no place amongst an educated group. It is important to understand collective silence amounts to passive acceptance. In an ideal situation, we should not think of people that way. Moreover, to expect an individual who is the subject of a derogatory statement alone be responsible to address concerns only emphasizes their vulnerability.
Change, real change, can only be effective if it is done in a positive manner. It can only occur when we are conditioned as a collective to identify issues and request respect. It can only occur if there is an understanding that individuals need support to identify the underlying issues and make change in themselves.
Our knowledge and professional status give us all an aura of authority and respect in our communities. Staff, patients and our communities need to trust that dentists will respect their boundaries and act responsibly. Any conduct - intentional or not - that breaches the trust of patients leaves the dentist open to claims of conduct unbecoming a professional.
Commonsense is important in our communications and conduct with patients and staff. We need to be aware and respect their boundaries, preferences and culture. You must err on the side
or prudence in what you say and write. Miscommunication and misunderstanding of intent are significant when it comes to sexual impropriety in the office. As professionals and employers, we are responsible to ensure our conduct is not perceived as crossing the line.
Sexual impropriety by professionals may be verbal, online,
physical contact, gestures, suggestions or other behaviours that may be reasonably construed as sexual in nature by staff, patients or their guardians. Direct sexual contact, actions demeaning to the patient,
inappropriate references to the patient’s health information, comments, innuendo or gestures disrespectful of the patient’s privacy and bodily integrity may amount to professional misconduct.
From a regulatory perspective, comments and conduct will be assessed on their face value. Your actual intent is a limited factor
for consideration. You may be intending to put the patient ease, be complimentary, be funny, be casual or laidback, but if the patient or staff perceives it as a violation and on the evidence it can be reasonably perceived as such, it will amount to misconduct.
Caution must also be taken in personal relationships with patients - current or past. As a general rule, it is inappropriate for a dentist to initiate a personal relationship or make sexual advances to a patient or staff member because of the very real potential for exploitation
of a their vulnerabilities and the power differential. If a patient or staff member initiates a relationship, the dentist must be careful to ensure the professional relationship is not an influencing factor in the process. It is prudent to terminate the doctor-patient relationship before entering a personal relationship that may conflict with your professional duties. Personal relationships entered prior to the doctor-patient relationship will have few issues but it is your obligation to ensure the person or third party payers are not being taken advantage of through your personal relationship.
All offices are required to have a harassment policy to manage inappropriate conduct. Employees and patients should not be in
a position where they feel vulnerable and uncertain as to how to respond. Dentists as employers and professionals are responsible to ensure a safe work environment.
Although not comprehensive, an office policy should ensure:
1. that you maintain a high level of professionalism throughout your
office so that regardless of the patient or staff member’s
background, your conduct is appropriate and respectful;
2. everyone in the office must be aware and educated about sexually
inappropriate behaviours - both obvious and subtle - and the need to respect the boundaries and avoid conduct that demeans the patient of othe3r staff member. Boundary issues include not only respecting a person’s physical space, but also must take into account verbal, emotional and cultural matters;
3. office must have a process and opportunities to address concerns of patients and staff members about behaviours they perceive as inappropriate. Open communications is critical to managing issues and avoiding inadvertent offence before they become disciplinary issues.
Enjoy the spring,
Marcel Van Woensel
Registrar, Manitoba Dental Association
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