Dentist and students walking in lab
Dr. Nancy Young, assistant dean for student affairs, accompanies students through lab.

The Highest of Values: Professionalism Cultivated from Day One

The Dental College of Georgia has a resounding philosophy that applies to every student, resident, staff and faculty member: Professionalism doesn’t stop at the door.

“We think of professionalism as a way of life, not something that applies only to one’s working hours,” says Dean Carol A. Lefebvre. “Its importance is emphasized in our mission and values statement and reinforced continually from the moment one sets foot on campus. We think our commitment to this principle is one of the many things that makes our environment so distinctive.”

The philosophy is particularly vital, she notes, in a profession that holds people’s health and well-being in its hands, with many of its practitioners operating autonomously.
Says Dr. Carole Hanes, professor emerita in the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and longtime associate dean for admissions, students and alumni before her recent retirement, “As the state’s only dental college, the DCG takes very seriously its mission to educate professional oral health care providers for Georgia. We understand that as educators, our role is to provide an environment and the resources to graduate skillful, compassionate, well-prepared dentists to serve the citizens of the state and the nation.”

The DCG drives this point home in many different ways, beginning with those selected to represent the college as either learners or employees. “Every step in the admissions or hiring process seeks out characteristics such as such as honesty, humility, integrity, team work and a strong work ethic,” Lefebvre says. “The bar is high, and the members of the DCG family are committed to optimal standards of professionalism from day one.”

Students, for instance, take a series of ethics and professionalism courses that span all four years of their education. “We consider these values so important that we incorporate them into the curriculum every year of dental school,” says Vice Dean Kevin Frazier. “We give our students ongoing exposure to the kinds of choices and decisions they will have to make throughout their careers, and we don’t miss a single opportunity to help instill the highest of values.”

The DCG also sponsors a chapter of the Student Professionalism and Ethics Association in Dentistry, a national student-driven association that promotes and supports a lifelong commitment to ethical behavior to benefit patients and advance the dental profession. The group serves as a resource for ethics education and professional development, fosters an open-forum environment for ethics communication and promotes awareness of ethics standards and related issues in dentistry.

“Professionalism is expected of dentists in their communities by their patients and their peers,” says Hanes, one of the group’s advisors. “Dentistry is a licensed profession, requiring high standards of care and ethical behavior by all those who practice. The DCG’s emphasis on professionalism prepares our graduates to readily meet and exceed those expectations through high-quality oral health care and a commitment to doing what is in the best interest of each patient.”

The DCG chapter sponsors monthly events, such as a recent “Cases that Warmed Our Hearts” forum as well as informational sessions co-hosted by the American College of Dentists.

“I have been ecstatic to see the growth and excitement the organization has fostered in the community,” says Ali Azadi, president of the DCG chapter. “I firmly believe that SPEA’s presence allows students a readily accessible opportunity to interact with ethical decision-making and ensure they are developing skills that will be vital in their profession, exposing them to various perspectives and building an all-inclusive community of future dentists who are passionate about serving communities with the utmost respect.”

The DCG administration is delighted to see this commitment get such a strong foothold right out of the gate. “The professionalism we foster is a unique skill set that involves self-governing and giving back to society,” says Assistant Dean for Admissions Regina Messer. “We look for it on applications and cultivate it every step of the way. It is a 24/7 commitment, not a job. It is who a dentist should be at all times.”

Adds Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Nancy Young, who served in private practice for several years before joining the faculty, “Dentistry requires a level of trust with patients. It’s a huge part of what being a dentist is. Society depends on us to be ethical and professional at all times, and we can never fall short of that obligation.”

Honoring Excellence

Dean Carol A. Lefebvre emphasizes that the DCG doesn’t just demand professionalism, but rewards it. Annual professionalism awards include:

  • American College of Dentists’ Student Professionalism Award. Honored with the 2020 award was Colton Fowlkes (’20).
  • American College of Dentists’ Faculty Professionalism Award. The 2020 recipient was Dr. Michael Myers. The 2021 recipient was Dr. Jackie Delash.
  • Omicron Kappa Upsilon Professionalism Award. The 2020 honoree was Wendi Clanton (’22).
  • Dr. Connie L. Drisko Professionalism Award. Honored in 2021 was Dr. Matthew Andrews.
  • Dolly Hearn Award, named in memory of a former student. The recipient, a junior dental student, is chosen by peers as the person they would seek out personally for dental care. Two seniors were honored with the award in 2020: Andrew Huber (’21) and Joseph Moore (’21).
  • Sherry Barnett Customer Service Award, established to recognize the values of professionalism, understanding, respect, service and excellence exemplified by former AU staff member, Sherry Barnett. Staff are nominated by their peers and the members of the Employee Engagement Committee select the winner from the nominations. The 2020 recipient was Anita Maruca.
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