Leadership and Ethics in Dentistry
The ADA is here to help you build leadership skills and an understanding of the ethical issues dentists face.
Here you’ll find an overview the Success presentation as well as additional resources.
Didn’t attend an ADA Success program at your school? Complete and submit this form to learn more about ADA Success programs offered by the ADA Office of Student Affairs.
Leadership means different things to different people, but the common themes are having a vision, inspiring and empowering others and creating personal ownership for your team. How do you find your vision? Start with your practice philosophy and your core values. Here are five tips to finding your practice philosophy:
- Define your purpose — It can be easy to skip this step but defining your purpose is an important part of identifying your leadership style and establishing goals. Ask yourself what is the most important part of your practice: Is it to be the best dentist you can be? Provide the best care to your patients? Stay current with technology and education? Provide for your family? Do you want to treat a certain population (children, low income, etc.)?
- Determine your treatment scope — what treatments will you offer? What materials will you use? Do you have a referral code in place?
- Define your technology expectations — what technology will you use? Do you want the latest equipment?
- Visualize the type of interaction you desire with your dental team and dentist colleagues — do you wish to work in a solo practice, on a bigger team with many dentists or somewhere in between? What type of environment do you seek with your dental team?
- Think about your community involvement — do you know what level of involvement you’d like in your community and organized dentistry? Do you want to volunteer internationally? Get involved with the local Chamber of Commerce? What about in community schools or with Give Kids A Smile? Do you want to be a leader in the ADA or your dental societies? Will your practice support community and organized dentistry involvement?
When defining your philosophy, it’s a good idea to talk things out with a good friend, dentist mentor or other dentist colleague.
Leadership as a Dentist
Sometimes little interactions can be big leadership moments. As a dentist, you are you the leader of the dental team whether you’re the owner or not. Where do leadership opportunities happen as a dentist?
- Patient communication — Building trust with your patient is key to a successful relationship.
- Dental team meetings — You will help set the tone for team meetings as a leader.
- In between patients — Just because a patient isn’t in the chair, doesn’t mean leadership isn’t happening or challenged. Take the time during breaks to talk to your team, acknowledge their work, ask questions and to get to know your colleagues.
- Your community — You can be a leader outside of the dental office by getting involved in your community.
- Organized dentistry — Make your voice heard through your professional associations.
Leadership Do's and Don'ts
You set the ethics, culture and personality of the office. The goal is not necessarily to be popular, but to be respected. Lead by example. Trust and respect are earned with consistency, enthusiasm, and professional and personal courtesy. Follow through on commitments and expect the same. Balance optimism and positive energy with tangible expectations: start doing this, stop doing that. Remember: Attitude is everything — strive to provide services capable of changing a patient’s life.
| Leadership Dos
Encourage problem solving
Help people to solve their own problems. Discourage prematurely turning to you, ask how they might solve the problem – don't accept "I have no idea."
Don't settle for a poor performer.
You deserve better and so do your best people. Set the bar high and build a stronger group
Tell an employee what you need from them, or are not getting, or you’ll never see them change. You don’t get what you expect; you get what you accept.
Don't accept excuses.
Employees need to take responsibility -- “there was no time” excuse: "You should come to me, not doing the job is not the answer.”
Treat people fairly.
Treat your staff according to merit - results, commitment, contribution - not equally. Think 'equity vs. equality.'
Don't manage on the fly.
Putting out fires that never should have gotten started in the first place is a waste of time and creates extra stress
Reward results, not hard work alone. Hard work is well and good but keep the focus on achieving results... help your people problem solve creatively.
Don't express exasperation.
There will be frustrations, don’t roll your eyes, sigh, that kind of thing. Nonverbal communication has a powerful negative effect. A quick, candid redirect or correction is far more effective.
Don’t throw people under the bus. Have their back, support them publicly if they take a stand in a team meeting. It takes courage, acknowledge that courage
Don't rationalize poor results.
Keep the focus on what you are in control of rather than outside factors
Ethics & Dentistry
Your personal code of ethics is called upon every day at a subconscious level when you make a decision. And as dentists, you’ll be making dozens, if not more, decisions every day.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the ADA Code of Ethics early in your dental career and to understand the resources available to you.
What does it mean to abide by a Code of Ethics? Watch this video.
Navigating ethical dilemmas
This rubric can help you think through an ethical dilemma:
E — Evaluate the Facts
T — Think About the Conflict Presented
H — How Many Principles Apply?
I — Identify Applicable Codes and Code Sections
C — Compare Different Options
S — Select the Best Option Under the Circumstances
You can also find resources on the Student Professional and Ethics Association website.
Getting involved in organized dentistry or in your community is a great way to build leadership skills and to make an impact in your profession. If you want to see something change, you can be the one to advocate for that change. In addition to supporting your profession or community, you can also help to build your resume and show diversity of experience when interviewing.
A great place to start is to reach out to your ADA New Dentist Committee representative and your ASDA Leadership. Here are some other places to get involved:
- Dental School: Start with the dental school opportunities. ASDA is always looking for volunteers and there are other student dental groups as well. Find out what interests you. Participate in ASDA chapter events and consider the ASDA National Leadership Conference in Chicago.
- Community: Volunteering in your community in events like Give Kinds A Smile, Mission of Mercy or even trips to elementary schools to talk about oral health all make a difference. Participating in Chamber of Commerce or other community events can also help build a foundation for serving future patients.
- National/State: Participating in Lobby Days with the ADA, ASDA or your state dental association is a great way to learn about the legislative process. Think your voice doesn’t matter? Think again. The legislators appreciate hearing the student perspective. You can learn more about ADPAC and Student Lobby Day on ADA.org/student.
Some other things to remember are:
- Remember that it’s okay to start small and start locally. Do just one thing.
- Play to your strengths. If you like to write, consider writing for your student newsletter or blog. If networking is your cup of tea, help coordinate social events. If you want to Give Back, find out where the volunteer opportunities are and focus on altruistic efforts.
- Bring a friend. It’s easier to start together.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to experienced dentists and national leaders. They are genuinely interested in learning the student point of view and also enjoy sharing their experiences.
ADA and ASDA Student Membership - Most dental students are members of the ADA and ASDA. You join both organizations at the same time. Members receive special benefits and resources to support you during school and help you prepare for your dental career. Learn more about your ADA student membership. You can find information on ASDA at ASDAnet.org.
Stay in touch with the ADA after graduation. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the Member Profile.
ADA Membership After Graduation - After graduation, you can continue your membership with the ADA. The first year is free and most state and local societies also offer reduced dues. If you’re going into a residency, you receive a special student rate and then pick up the free year after your program. Get on your feet and connect with your professional association to help you get there. Learn more.