Last week, I launched my very first blog post entitled “This post will make you unfollow me, and that’s okay”, a sassy yet honest post about the facets of dentistry, and dental hygiene specifically, that I believe has limited our industry in growing. In detail, I described my concerns with “meeting the bare minimum” as being the gold standard to which some professionals will do in “advancing” their knowledge of the industry and the subsequent efforts they put into patient care.
As expected, I received mixed responses.
The thought leaders of our industry and the respected hygienists I have the pleasure of working with appreciated my provocative opinions about how we, as an industry, must continue to move forward by raising the bar. I also received private messages from doctors who thanked me for my opinions as well as honest but respectful messages from colleagues who disagreed with my opinions. In every sense, whether we agreed completely or not, I loved that I was able to have open, honest, respectful and educated conversations with the dental community about the status of our efforts to raise the bar in standards, innovation and excellence.
Sadly, however, I had a dental “professional” post on my Facebook page, calling me self-satisfied, pompous and smug for the opinions expressed in my blog post.
First and foremost, any individual who speaks that way as a representation of their professionalism certainly isn’t aligned with my tribe of kind, supportive and respectful people. Luckily, this individual was able to follow my directions and she promptly unfollowed me.
Secondly, while the name calling hurt my feelings for about four seconds, what really hurt was the idea that this “professional” so passionately defended the minimum standard as acceptable while informing me that I was pompous for expecting dental hygienists, as an industry, to step forward together and rise above.
Let’s review: the “minimum standard of care”, as established by organizations such as the American Dental Association and our state board, to name a few, are just that: the MINIMUM standard of care. It is the minimum work you must do to ensure you don’t lose a lawsuit and while that may work for some, it hurts my heart and leaves me with great concern in knowing that many, as providers, are perfectly happy to treat human beings this way.
In extreme cases, as the one outlined above, some dental providers not only believe the minimum standard of care is satisfactory, but also defend their minimal actions with immense conviction. And that, my friends, is simply not acceptable in my universe.
Two months ago, my mother passed away. Mom wasn’t sick, she didn’t have any chronic diseases and she wasn’t in a tragic car accident. All we knew was Mom went grocery shopping, came home and collapsed in her kitchen. Despite Dad performing CPR on her (a horrific task that, in my opinion, no one should have to perform on a loved one), she never gained the ability to breathe on her own again.
The next four days were heart wrenching for my family as we came together to mourn and support Dad through signing Mom’s organ donation paperwork. One week after Mom was grocery shopping and posting silly dog memes on social media, we gathered in her small central Wisconsin church. Through intermittent tears and extreme nausea, I delivered my mother’s eulogy while my heartbroken father sat in the front pew clutching a photograph of her. Over the next several days, my brother, sisters and I watched as Dad started to clear out Mom’s toiletries from the bathroom, collect piles of her clothes for donation, and pick out an urn for her ashes.
My mom… was gone…
No answers: it wasn’t a heart attack. It wasn’t a stroke. Her kidneys, liver, lungs, heart… all perfectly fine and fit for organ donation. All the doctors could surmise is that Mom had somehow experienced an acute depletion of oxygen which led to brain death.
What we learned, however, was that three hours prior to Mom’s passing, she had seen an ear, nose and throat specialist. You see, Mom felt like her throat was swelling, and she advised her doctor that she struggled to breathe effectively. It being cold and flu season, Mom was told it was a sinus infection. She received a prescription for a Z-pack and booked a re-evaluation appointment for a week later. Within six hours, Mom was placed into a medically induced hypothermia in an intensive care unit about 30 miles outside of their small town, and spoiler alert: Mom never made it to her re-evaluation appointment the following week.
Here are a few other things mom will never make it to: She will never see my sister walk down the aisle to marry her fiancé, she will never hold her future grandchildren, and she will never travel with my Dad, who had proudly retired early to begin a new chapter of their lives together.
While others are preparing for a fun and festive holiday season with their families, my family is preparing for the first Christmas without Mom, who bounded through the house while decorating, always gave unique gifts and brought so much joy to the holidays.
I’m not asking for your pity: I’m asking for your understanding.
Mom’s ear, nose and throat physician performed the minimum standard on her, which was a prescription and a re-evaluation. By all counts, this was satisfactory standard and protocol given what Mom had presented with that morning. But this physician, who thought she would perform tonsillectomies her entire career, gets to live with the immense guilt of knowing that her minimum standard of care in decision-making led to a family losing their beloved mother.
So: If expecting my mom’s physician to do more than the bare minimum makes me pompous, then I suppose I’m pompous. If wishing I had my mom back makes me self-satisfied, then I guess I’m self-satisfied, and if I’m smug for bringing awareness to why the bare minimum isn’t enough…well, then I will admit I’m smug.
Why the story?
Because every time we don’t check a patient’s blood pressure, every time a lesion under the tongue goes without evaluation or every time you fail to expose radiographs to identify pathology, you actively contribute to the problem. In turn, you become part of the reason why patients don’t trust providers and why we have to be so concerned with legal ramifications for our actions, or lack thereof.
So respectfully, no. I do not align with those who find it acceptable to take the gorgeous trust patients have in our skills and squander them under the protection of the minimum standard. For those who didn’t read through it, my blog post was about far more than just continuing education: it was about taking professional responsibility for the wellness of the patients entrusted to our care.
If my blog post made you feel uncomfortable, perhaps it can also bring some awareness to the areas of your career in which you have opportunities to grow. If my blog post empowered you and made you realize that you aren’t alone in wanting to be excellent: welcome to my tribe!
While the negative comments of one individual certainly will not change the provocative nature of my blog, it did raise my awareness of two things:
- It is not and never will be okay to approach a professional discussion with unkindness, name calling, and disrespect. A healthy and respectful discussion is absolutely acceptable and encouraged, however, if I see unkindness within my social media pages, it will be removed and blocked.
- I am even more in love with my tribe: the passionate professionals who are so in love with dentistry. The warriors who, on an hourly basis, work tirelessly to improve the quality of life and continue to raise the bar for our industry.
With pride, I acknowledge the dreamers, the seekers and the thought leaders. Those who work every day to create a unique patient experience: those who connect with their patients and care so passionately about providing the best care possible. Babes, sometimes that is a thankless endeavor, as I know I have certainly experienced my fair share of patients who argue about taking vitals for “just a cleaning” and wish to heal their oral bacterial infection with coconut oil.
Nevertheless, I am with you in this quest for excellence. YOU are the drivers of our industry, the brilliant minds and the healers who will continue to support the evolution of our industry forever.
I raise my wine glass to you.
This is the last photo we took together as a family: this photo was taken four weeks before Mom passed away. We love you Mom and miss you every day.