The summer’s annual “Bring Kids A Smile” outing in your town was held last weekend, and you just received an e-mail that displays color photos of the participants. Children and their parents attended. Many of the community’s political leaders were present. Health care providers who treat the adolescent patient population are usually eager to donate a day to evaluate the underserved or underprivileged patients in your community. Pediatricians, pedodontists, orthodontists, nurses, and speech therapists are just a few of the professions represented at this event, many of whom attend for a number of reasons. In addition to providing examinations without fees and offering unlimited information to those who would otherwise have little access to such resources, the event is perceived as another way to market one’s services.
Although you have never participated, you’ve always enjoyed viewing the photos of the event. Years ago, a mailed brochure arrived a week after the outing to communicate the day’s activities, but now a broad Internet presentation brings you and the community an array of photos and narratives of the day’s events. Your jaw drops as you see a young female dental professional, scantily clad in a yellow bikini and high heels, posed next to a sign that advertises her practice. You had met her briefly at a school meeting but never had the chance to exchange practice philosophies. She moved to the area about 1 year ago and is quite eager to rapidly build her practice base. You shake your head in disappointment at her marketing technique. When your spouse asks you what concerns you, you abruptly close your laptop and frown. You prefer not to elaborate.
There are many facets of professionalism. The “normative picture of dentistry” implies that when a person enters a career in dentistry, he or she accepts certain behavioral obligations “as a condition of entry.” A health practitioner’s behavior is expected to conform to established standards of the professional community in which he or she practices. It is incumbent on the dental and specialty educational system, as well as established practitioners who serve as role models, to emphasize and encourage these values. Unlike an article of fine designer clothing or an ornate piece of jewelry, professional behavior is not reserved for impressionable occasions, such as your lecture at the dental society meeting or sitting for a board examination. Professional behavior is a full-time endeavor.
The need for appropriate professional demeanor knows no boundaries. I vividly recall a constituency meeting at a Caribbean resort that I attended with my family. At a poolside event on a hot, sunny afternoon, several attendees and their staff enjoyed a few too many drinks from the floating refreshment stand. As the afternoon progressed, they began to infuriate other pool guests by their raucous and occasionally lewd behavior. A few drinks later, they became the laughingstock of the event. Ultimately, they realized their lapse in good judgment, and they apologized for their embarrassing behavior the next morning at breakfast. We are all entitled to relaxation and enjoyment, but discretion is an absolute necessity.
It has been said that image is everything. Contemporary image-building not only entails discretion when we leave the office at the end of the day, but also includes our marketing philosophy, our demeanor at professional and community meetings, and our general social skills in the office and out. The profile we project on social media is especially important given the permanence of the Internet and its accessibility by the entire world. Our credibility depends on the image we project—both individually and collectively as a specialty. Word of mouth, whether traditional or electronic, reverberates more than we know. In this day and age, the traditional “6 degrees of separation” is as outdated as the rotary phone.