Student-run club stresses ethics
"Students recognize that one incident or individual can ruin the reputations of all of them," said Dr. Alvin Rosenblum, professor of clinical dentistry at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry.
Dr. Rosenblum is the faculty advisor of an innovative group at USC known as the Student Professionalism and Ethics Club. Created by students and run by students, SPEC has expanded to 12 dental schools across the country.
The initiative began in 2007 when groups of students and individuals approached USC faculty and administrators.
"Like any other large community, there are people in dental school who act in their own interest above the interest of others and violate ethical principles," said Dr. Rosenblum. "These students were calling incidents to our attention and wanted to know what they could do. I brought them together and asked them each to bring another student, and that became the core group."
SPEC has not sought enforcement authority for specific incidents, said Dr. Rosenblum.
"The purpose of the organization is educational, to create an atmosphere of understanding of what ethics is and why, as professionals, dental students are obligated to higher standards," he said.
"At our first meeting, well over 100 students and faculty showed up," said Ray Klein, a senior dental student at USC. "We really didn't expect that much interest in what we were doing. I think it says a lot for the future generation of dentists—they want to learn more and ensure a good name for the profession."
Monthly meetings focus on a discussion of ethics that has a practical, meaningful application. "We present dental dilemmas, some based on the ethical dilemmas published by Dr. Thomas Hasegawa in the Texas Dental Journal," said Mr. Klein. "There is also an open forum where students present their own problems, dilemmas they've dealt with and what they did.
"Those are always the most interesting and result in active involvement from everyone," he continued. "A lot of times, these situations occur and people sit and think about them for a long time wondering if they did the right thing. There can be more than one right answer, too."
At past meetings, students have discussed ways of confronting fellow students regarding ethical behavior and what to do when a faculty member criticizes a student in front of a patient.
"I offered the example of something that happened to me," said Mr. Klein. "A 76-year-old patient came in dead set on getting dentures, even though he didn't need them. His wife had them and liked them, and that was his knowledge of dentures. These are the types of situations that students come across in their careers."
A board member of the American Society for Dental Ethics and a fellow in the American College of Dentists, Dr. Rosenblum is behind the scenes with SPEC, offering recommendations on speakers and advising when needed. As an official university club, SPEC is required to have an advisor at every meeting.
More recently, the American Student Dental Association and SPEC have joined forces with the goal of having a SPEC chapter at every dental school, said Dr. Mike Meru, a 2009 USC graduate and immediate past president of ASDA.
"SPEC has been an amazing tool for us in changing the climate of ethics and professionalism among students in dental school because it is the students who are the driving force, not the administration or faculty," said Dr. Meru, who thanked the ADA, the ACD, the ASDE and ASDA for supporting SPEC.
"SPEC has allowed students to openly discuss issues that they see occurring in their schools, as well as outside of its walls, and in so doing, the students are able to recommit themselves and their peers to upholding the highest standards of ethics and professionalism," said Dr. Meru.
Schools creating their own SPEC chapters can tailor the club to their needs, added Mr. Klein, but he believes one component is vital: students have to be passionate about ethics and the ones who initiate the program.
"It's less effective when it comes from the top down," he said. "When it's done by students, everyone can really get behind it."
A SPEC startup kit can be found on the organization's Web site, www.specdental.org.