The challenges we face

Posted by Simplyhealth Professionals on 13/12/2017
Great South Run

If you’ve read my column before you will know that I am quite happy to take on a challenge. There are often times when I regret the decision but am usually still stupid enough to keep going with it. I have been trying to work out why I will keep going when everything inside me, and sometimes the people around me, are saying stop.

I think part of it is the fact that if you have told people about the challenge, especially in the case of the challenge I have just completed, and in my case written about it in an article, it is very difficult to give up.

A separate challenge that I have been reminded of today, is how we, as a profession, communicate what we do to the public. I have been part of a webinar panel presenting to employers and brokers about the benefits of offering a dental plan to their employees. I am there to give a professional view. Whenever I am involved with our corporate team I am usually presenting to lay people and it creates a very different audience to presenting to dental professionals and their teams.

I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again, that we really need to up our game in letting the public know what we do. If we want the public to respect and value us we need to tell them what we do. It is no good to assume they know. Most of them don’t!! They think all we do is look at teeth. If you’re lucky they might know we ‘do’ gums too.

I appreciate time is precious, but if we want our patients to value us we need to look at how we communicate what we are doing. Last year when I was doing radio interviews for Mouth Cancer awareness month, I was shocked that so many people had no idea that they were having an oral cancer check as part of their consultation. As I would like to believe that most people are having them done by their dentist, why do they not know we are doing it? If we are not getting this most important message across, about something everyone expects us to do, how do we think we will get anything else across?

So if that isn’t getting through, what about all the other things we may notice? We are in a privileged position that for our regular attenders we know them well and notice any change in them, and that isn’t just in the mouth. I would like to think that any negative changes seen we do make sure we comment on, and suggest a visit to an appropriate health care professional. But should we be considering how we communicate this to people before we find anything untoward? My view is absolutely!

Some of it can be linked to the joint messages of certain conditions linking with others. But I don’t think this goes far enough. Again, we possibly only discuss the links when the condition is already marching on. Do we do it enough to encourage prevention? For many of us this type of communication is a challenge, time wise, confidence wise, and going outside of our ‘comfort zone’ of guidance. But when we may be the only healthcare professional who sees certain patients regularly we need to consider whether we have an ethical obligation to do so.

So, think about whether it has to be the clinicians. Can some of the general messages come from team members, or in newsletters, or on websites or social media?

If we want the public to have a better perception of who we are and what we do, we need to give them the information to change their perception.

So going back to my challenge. Five months ago I had to change my perception of running and me. My team challenged me to do the Great South Run with them and my whole headspace had to shift.  I have to say at the beginning the temptation to get in water and swim every time it got a little tough was very strong. However, as time went on I started to enjoy it. I almost couldn’t believe it!

The experience of being part of the Great Run Series and of my team supporting me during the training and so amazingly on the day was beyond anything I had expected. I realised that any challenge is so much easier when you have support. If my team could help me to run 10 miles, smile at the end, and have done it faster than I ever hoped for, can’t our practice teams help us face the challenge of altering the publics perception of us? Yet again, in my view, absolutely!

About the Author:

Catherine Rutland

Catherine Rutland works as Head of Professional Services at Simplyhealth Professionals, and writes a regular column for The Dentist