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Professional Issues

If I show respect, I am likely to be respected

OSAP Chair - CopyBy now, every dentist in Canada must be aware of the Facebook group behavior at Dalhousie University that has featured prominently in media across the country for the past month. There has been a lot of very heated discourse about what should be done in the wake of this series of events, and I know that many dentists feel particularly hurt by how our profession has been portrayed in some of the more biting commentaries.

On a personal basis, I have wrestled with how to analyze the behavior and place it in proper context. I have also wrestled with what we as a profession can learn and how we can move forward both wiser and stronger. The temptation to label this student behavior as being solely a gender-related issue, and localized to one institution or one profession doesn’t rest comfortably with me.

I have been searching for the proper language framework to describe the actions of the Dalhousie Facebook group, and my reaction to them, and I didn’t feel I had it until I came across the phrase “culture of respect” on a section of the Dalhousie University website. When I saw that term in that context, I felt I could begin to conceive what we in the profession might do to foster an augmented culture of respect among our members, from day one in dental school until retirement from practice.

Almost coincidentally with stumbling upon the “culture of respect” section of the university website, I unearthed from the nether regions of my computer hard drive, the text of a keynote address I delivered at the first White Coat Ceremony that was held at the McGill University Faculty of Dentistry over a decade ago. Reading through the text of the speech I delivered to the new 3rd year students entering the clinics to treat their first patients, I found that same message about a culture of respect (albeit stated in other but similar terms) being a cornerstone of a healthy profession.

What can we learn from Dalhousie’s experience? What can we as a profession do collectively to enhance our culture of respect for the public, patients, team members and colleagues? I would love to hear from you (on a confidential basis) about how you feel about the Dalhousie Facebook group behavior and what lessons you believe we as a profession can learn that will make us more caring, respectful and wiser.

You can contact Dr. John O’Keefe at jokeefe@cda-adc.ca and 1-800-267-6354 ext 5000 



  1. Anonymous January 20, 2015

    Dear John,
    Nice to have a measured response. We as dentists must respect everyone: our patients, our staff, and especially our colleagues. I am concerned that we are losing our way by failing to act appropriately. It sheds us in a bad light and does not help the public trust us. Thank you for your McGill speech – well done.
    Best wishes

  2. Anonymous January 20, 2015

    This is very much a gender related issue. If these students had focused their comments on race, this would be an issue of racism. As it stands, this is an issue of misogyny. As dentists, I understand why our main concern is for our professional reputation with the public – it is a privilege to treat patients, not a right and we must earn their trust. We should equally be concerned with how this issue affects women – both patients and female dentists/dental students. We cannot lose sight of the fact that women in general are the victims of this issue.

  3. anonymous 2 January 20, 2015

    I agree with you about the culture of respect concept, but the gender related aspects of this issue simply cannot be glossed over. In the thousands of posted comments to various newspaper articles on the Dal problem, the vitriol against women by a proportion of men (supported by comments from some women, I might add) is absolutely shocking. It has been an education indeed. Despite the advances that women have made in business and the professions in the past 40 years, we can see with the Facebook posts at Dalhousie that you do not need to scrape too far below the surface to find that sexism is alive and well today.

  4. Anonymous January 22, 2015

    I do agree that respect is important. However, kids do not seem to realize that what they perceive as “harmless fun” on Facebook can haunt them forever.

    We are all guilty of it. We all get and receive off-colour, sexist jokes, pictures from friends and colleagues. Instead of persecuting a group of kids, we should examine our emails, texts etc from friends. As an example, look at your emails from yesterday. I am sure they will contain material that someone will consider offensive. So, are we any different then the group of Dalhousie Students? We should all remember that those in glass houses should not throw the first rock.

  5. Anonymous January 22, 2015

    I cannot agree enough about the need for a discussion in dentistry around respect and office culture. I have been privileged to work with extremely respectful dentists and saddened to work with the opposite. Unfortunately for our patients, the underlying culture of the dental office is not evident to the outsider although its effects are far-reaching.

    It would behoove dentists to better understand their role as leader in their practices, even if they do not care for the role. As a practice manager I have seen how many dentists would prefer to just take care of the dentistry aspect of the practice and leave the leadership to others. There is a failure to recognize that in the end, the staff look to the dentist to guide the culture, to display behaviour that is, and isn’t, acceptable. Dentists are under the microscope with their staff and must live up to the highest standards, especially if they expect those standards from their staff.

    I hope that the conversation around respect continues and encourages dentists to take a closer look at the root causes of negative office culture

  6. Anonymous January 23, 2015

    I would like to respond to the above poster who wrote:

    “So, are we any different than the group of Dalhousie Students? We should all remember that those in glass houses should not throw the first rock.”

    To answer the above poster’s question: Yes. I am different and I would hope that most (if not all) of our colleagues are different.

    If you are appalled by those who perpetuate rape culture and violence against women, then you are different from these Dal students. And I argue that posting such ideas on the internet classify as actions, not just words or thoughts.
    It is disheartening that the previous poster sees this as “persecuting a group of kids”. This is akin to the “boys will be boys” mentality. These are not boys, but men who will soon be dentists. They will have great responsibility and power over female patients and staff. It is time we stopped creating an environment where such behaviour is acceptable.

  7. virtual reality January 24, 2015

    The points above about dentists being leaders and not throwing the first stone are well taken. Another issue that has come out from the Dal situation in the past few days is the fact that there were breaches of patient confidentiality on two different dental student Facebook sites. This is an issue that dentists need to pay close attention to. There is not a week goes by that I do not receive confidential patient data from another dentist via email. This is non-secure data transfer and contravenes all privacy laws and professional ethical standards. While it is a quick and easy way to communicate about patients, and some might argue that it therefore enhances patient care, it puts both dentists and patient privacy at risk.

    There are a number of ethical issues that CDA is well positioned to address – in conjunction with, but not left solely to, the Dental Regulatory Authorities. CDA needs to show some leadership here. In addition, ethics curricula in our Faculties of Dentistry clearly need to be strengthened.

  8. virtual reality January 24, 2015

    I would also like to pick up on the gender related issues raised by the behaviour at Dal and a couple of the above posts.

    Anecdotes from women dentists and from office support staff and the lack of women in leadership positions in dental organizations and institutions confirm that the old boys club exists in our profession.

    I suspect that there are very few female dentists who cannot recall a story either from student or practice days that does not speak to very deeply held beliefs and often fairly covert but insidious instances where they have been made to feel that they are second class. From remarks that women dentists do not work the hours that men do (not supported to any significant extent by the research), that we take time off from or defer post grad studies to have babies (someone has to do it – is it such a bad thing?!), to the verbal abuse and sometimes sexual harassment of women support staff that occurs in a number of offices – well, we have come a long way, but we are not where we should be yet.

  9. anonymous February 3, 2015

    I will not “man up”!

    As a women I was offended by the comments made by some young men who should have known better. Yet I was even more distressed by the fact that some journalists—and dentists—encouraged females to “man up.”

    It is indeed a tough world out there. Yet women should not have to grow a thicker skin because of misogyny and sexism. Homosexuals should not have to grow a thicker skin because of homophobia. People from different cultures should not have to grow a thicker skin because of racism. By telling people to grow a thicker skin, we’re implying that things will not change. And that is wrong.

    But to foster change, we need to be supportive. We need to show empathy. We need to care. How can we expect women to speak up for themselves and defend themselves when it often leads to ostracism—even among women? I’ve heard on many occasions female colleagues tell other women to get used to it or, even worse, that “they probably asked for it.” That has to change.

    When a colleague, staff member or friend mentions being the subject of misogynistic comments, a lot of us offer very little, if any, support and revert to gender-typing comments that serve neither women nor men. This cannot continue. Let’s stand up for women who experience sexism and give them a voice, and let’s stand up for men and not treat them all like criminals. Let’s not make those on the receiving end feel as though it is pointless to even mention what they’ve been experiencing.

    Dentists are members of a caring profession; let’s show that we care.


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