Determining the best ways to teach dentist ethics and professionalism to first year dental students can be very challenging. An underlying issue is whether or not teaching ethics to dental students can positively influence their ethical conduct as dentists.
Dentistry, like many other professions, has multiple “Codes of Ethics” for its members to follow. We talk of ethical behaviour and read about ethical misconduct, but what exactly are ethics? Are they innate? Can they be learned? Are they a choice? Are they a habit? Is there any value including it in the dental school curriculum or is it too late to teach ethics to dental students once they have been admitted into dental school?
Ethics is the study of what is right and wrong. It is the process involved in determining the most morally desirable course of action when confronted with a situation where a decision is required.
Ethics and professionalism are important parts of our practice of dentistry and need to be addressed. Ethics courses in dental school, articles in leading dental journals, advice columns in our governing boards’ bulletins and continuing education courses, all contribute to laying the groundwork for our ethical behaviour and decision making process throughout our careers.
With continued and effective teaching of dentist ethics and professionalism at the dental school level and positive role models of the teaching faculty (and the profession at large), the moral and ethical consciousness of dental students can be raised to the highest levels possible. The future of dentistry is in the hands of our graduating dental students and providing them with a sound ethical and professional basis for practising dentistry is in the best interests of the students, dentists, the profession and the public we serve.