Dental Student Professionalism Concerns

The United States has some of the best dental schools in the world. While dental science forms the core of dental school curriculums, dental schools, including top ten schools at the University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, University of Washington, Harvard, and UCLA, maintain professionalism policies to which they expect their students to adhere. Violating dental school professionalism policy can lead to misconduct charges and discipline up to dismissal from the dental program. Dental schools take professionalism seriously. Dental students should thus take seriously any misconduct charges. Immediately retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento if you face dental school misconduct charges.

Dental School Professionalism Norms

The University of Washington School of Dentistry, among other top ten dental schools, has a typical professionalism policy stating:

The School has the responsibility to the public to assure that its graduates can become fully competent dentists, capable of delivering quality care in a timely manner and preserving the health and well-being of the patients they serve. Thus, it is important that persons admitted, retained, and graduated possess the intelligence; integrity; respect for the rights, privileges, and property of others; compassion; humanitarian concern; and physical and emotional capacity necessary to practice dentistry.

Notice that these typical professionalism norms expressed in the University of Washington School of Dentistry's policy include:

  • competence in professional practice;
  • timeliness in providing quality care;
  • preservation of patient health and well being;
  • intelligence, expressed as knowledge of current practice;
  • integrity, expressed as consistency of action to commitments;
  • respect for the rights and property of others;
  • compassion and concern; and
  • physical and emotional fitness.

The American Dental Association publishes its own code of conduct and principles of ethics to express “the obligations arising from the implied contract between the dental profession and society.” State dental associations and licensing boards, along with the dental schools themselves, use the ADA code as a pattern for their own professionalism requirements. The ADA code includes these commitments:

  • to preserve patient autonomy, involving the patient in the choice of the patient's care;
  • to do no harm, such as to abandon patients, act while impaired, or expose patients to blood-borne pathogens;
  • to do good, including to report abuse or neglect, treat co-workers respectfully, and not disrupt the dental practice;
  • to act justly with respect to access to dental services, dental fees, and marketing; and
  • to act truthfully, representing care accurately, billing without fraud, avoiding unnecessary services, and advertising without misleading.

Dental School Professional Misconduct

Common Forms. The above professionalism norms suggest the kind of misconduct in which dental students might engage, leading to discipline. That misconduct can surely include some of the forms of misconduct in which other college and university students might engage, like:

  • Title IX sexual misconduct involving sexual violence, sexual harassment, or quid pro quo sexual favors;
  • non-Title IX sexual misconduct involving sexual exploitation such as voyeurism, exposure, solicitation to prostitution, and invasion of privacy;
  • behavioral misconduct like alcohol abuse, drug abuse, non-sexual threats and violence, vandalism, trespass, and misuse of school computers.

Peculiar Forms. The above professionalism norms, also suggest kinds of misconduct in which dental students might engage, leading to discipline, that are unusual to dental or other healthcare practices. That peculiar misconduct in which dental students in clinical courses providing actual dental care, or graduates in residency programs, might unfortunately engage or face school accusations of engaging, can include:

  • exceeding consent with a service the patient had not authorized;
  • recommending or providing unnecessary dental services;
  • using a method or material other than that represented to the patient;
  • performing or attempting to perform while impaired;
  • abandoning a patient without completing stabilizing care;
  • exposing a patient to blood-borne pathogens;
  • refusing a patient critical emergency care when positioned to provide it;
  • failing to report abuse or neglect of a dental patient;
  • harassing co-workers, disrupting dental practice;
  • using the position or practice of dentistry to coerce patient favor; or
  • abusing the tools and methods of dentistry for exploitative gain.

Potential Sanctions. The potential sanctions for dental student professionalism misconduct depend on the nature and seriousness of the findings, and any mitigating circumstances. Typical potential sanctions authorized by school or university policy include oral or written warning, oral or written reprimand, reduction of course grade, loss of course credit, disciplinary probation, deferred or actual suspension, deferred or actual dismissal, and degree withholding or revocation. Obviously, the potential sanctions for professional misconduct warrant a dental student's most-serious treatment of misconduct charges.

Dental School Professionalism Procedures

When a patient, fellow student, professor, supervisor, director, or other person or school official observes and reports suspected dental student misconduct, dental schools follow discipline procedures to resolve the misconduct charges. Some dental schools, like the top ten University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry, refer to elaborate university misconduct procedures to address misconduct charges. Other dental schools, like the top-ranked University of Michigan School of Dentistry, delegate professionalism issues to an honor system advisory committee, suggesting less elaborate procedures, at least for misconduct peculiar to the teaching and educational practice of dentistr