INTRODUCTIONAs students, we have observed many different situations that have led to our professional development. Most situations were expected educational experiences; however, other things were ethical dilemmas in which we had unexpected learning experiences. In private practices there are similar situations; therefore, recognizing these difficult decision-making situations is key to protecting the profession of Dental Hygienists. Although we are students, it is imperative to form ourselves into ethical individuals who are responsible for our own actions as well as the actions of our peers. Our profession has set forth a code of ethics by which we as Dental HygienistÃÂs are to abide by in order to help us make choices that will protect us when our judgment is at issue. Being aware of our surroundings is one of the ways to protect our patients in order to prevent undue harm onto them. This essay will show the ethical issues surrounding peer drug abuse.
Concrete Experience During my senior term at San Joaquin Valley College, I became involved with a junior student because she was my cousin. I chose to mentor my cousin NAME as a big sister. Through her, I became familiar with some of the other junior classmates. One day she told my cousin NAME told me that a shy classmate, student X had confided in her that one of the girls was smoking marijuana on a regular basis. My cousin admitted that she had heard that as well, but had not heard it from Michelle herself. I told my senior classmate Kim about the incident, but did not tell any of the Instructors since I did not have first hand knowledge about MichelleÃÂs actions. Although I did not know this Michelle personally, the story sounded plausible since the many details that surrounded it were so elaborate. My cousin confided in me that during the weekend student X had been over to study at MichelleÃÂs house and witnessed her smoking large amounts of marijuana. Student X said that Michelle smoked constantly throughout their study session and admitted to smoking all day. In fact, Michelle boasted that she chain-smoked marijuana all day, even at lunchtime in her car during school days! Student X went on to say that Michelle confided her whole drug history to her. Michelle told student X that she had been doing drugs since the age of eleven. Then Michelle said she became a methamphetamine drug dealer while in High School. Michelle went on to say that she has been using ÃÂcrystal methÃÂ for many years, but gave it up temporarily for the Dental Hygiene program. She said that she has every intention of continuing her habit once she graduates. Amazingly, the story becomes even more believable when she states that she carries fake urine samples with her in case she gets drug tested. Remarkably, the story gets worse when she said that Michelle had threatened student X. My cousin NAME said that Michelle remarked to student X that if anyone turned her in she would kill them! Michelle went on to say that she had worked too hard to not make it through this program. My cousin NAME stated that student X said she could not believe that the Instructors did not notice that this girl had such bloodshot eyes everyday.
When I heard this story I was alarmed. I told my cousin NAME that I did not want Michelle to be her partner for Anesthesia next term. I told her she should tell someone about it. My cousin told me that she was worried about student XÃÂs safety and said that student X was truly frightened of this girl. Student X said that Michelle had stated over and over that the person would die if they turned her in. Then my cousin NAME said that over the term break Michelle admitted to student X that she did cocaine during the entire time as well as some other questionable things. On that particular day I was on my way into Pharmacology class. Dr. WatrousÃÂ syllabus stated that we would be covering drug abuse in the dental setting. Under the title was the subcategory, drug abuse amongst dental professionals and how to detect it in patients. When I read that I marched right into Mrs. SerpaÃÂs office and told her that one of the juniors was abusing drugs. A short time later a random drug test was performed and Michelle tested positive.
Reflective Observations In retrospect, I should have told Mrs. Serpa about Michelle sooner. Although I was not sure of the truth of the situation, it is better to explore all possibilities when such crazy stories are being told at school. At the time I felt is was an awkward situation because the student was not in my class and I had never even spoken to her. In fact, I did not even know her other than having my cousin NAME point her out to me from a distance. I was trying to encourage my cousin to come forward and tell an Instructor since she was certain that student X was too frightened to speak. My cousin NAME had stated that she tried to coerce student X to tell the story, but with no luck. I felt strongly that since I was more comfortable at the school than a new student that the action to act would have to come from me. I sought advice from someone outside of school who told me that the school would probably make sure that no one knew that student X told MichelleÃÂs secret drug usage story. On the other hand, I could not believe that the school had not picked up on this so I sort of thought that it may have been untrue. However, since so many details came to the surface I had to lean towards believing the story more than disbelieving it.
Abstract Concepts The code of ethics set forth by the profession are designed to guide decision-making and achieve ethical conscientiousness. According to Phyllis Beemsterbauer (2002), ÃÂResponsibility is central to our ethics. It is the responsibility of the dental hygienist to know the code of ethics and accept responsibility for his/her actions.ÃÂ A failure to make someone accountable for his or her actions whether intentional or unintentional shows a lack of responsibility. If the patient is harmed because a professional did not hold their peer accountable for their actions, then both parties are equally at fault. According to Beemsterbauer, nonmaleficence is defined as a health care providerÃÂs first obligation to do no harm to the patient (pg. 116). Therefore, when a health care provider fails to protect a patient from harm they are at fault and can be held responsible for their lack of action if the patient becomes harmed during treatment. Furthermore, Beemsterbauer statesÃÂAfter entering professional practice, it becomes the obligation of thoseprofessionals to assist in regulating their profession. When violations occur,members of the profession who become aware of these violations have a dutyto intervene in a substantive way. This is a very serious step and must becarefully considered; ultimately, the reputation of the profession and the well-being of the public rest on a willingness to engage in meaningful self-policingof the profession. (p.156).ÃÂIt is important to recognize and respond to peer attitudes and actions in our profession. In ADHA Access magazine, The Dental HygienistÃÂs Role in Identifying and Responding to Methamphetamine Use and the Drug Endangered Child, Sharlee Burch, RDH, MPH (2009) says ÃÂmethÃÂ addicts tend to fit a certain profile such as ÃÂÃÂ high achieving college students wanting to be more productive, long-haul truck drivers, professionals under pressure, busy mothers, gay men, and adolescents who use it recreationallyÃÂ in other words, almost anyone (p.25).ÃÂ Therefore, the health care professional must beware that the they keep their eyes open for warning signs since anyone can be susceptible to drug abuse. Furthermore, according to Burch ÃÂmethÃÂ can be obtained easily and its use has risen throughout the United States (p24).
It is always important to protect the profession of Dental Hygiene by maintaining the patientÃÂs safety and self-policing the profession since health care professionals are the only ones to witness unethical and unlawful acts amongst their peers. Educational facilities seek to promote ethical conscientiousness in the professional setting. If professionals know what is expected of them then they are more willing to reinforce those traits in themselves and expect it from their peers.
Active Experimentation Therefore, dental professionals must make choices of good over evil and the better choice over the worse choice. They must also know that Patients place themselves in the care of another person and expect no hard from that act. The patient trusts that the profession will weed out those who are not capable of entrusting with a very sacred privilege, such as the sanctity of the health of their body. It is just as unlawful to knowingly permit dangerous professionals to practice, as it is to be that dangerous professional. If the behavior is wrong, unjust, or unlawful then they must be reported to the proper authorities for disciplinary action. It is up to the profession to decide the actions that will be taken against them. Sometimes it is just a suspension, other times it is a revoked license. Either way, dental professionals can make complaints anonymously so there is no reason why they should fear retaliation.
CONCLUSIONI am nearing the end of my long schooling to become a Dental Hygienist. Now I can look back and know that I have already helped the profession by putting up a roadblock for a peer who had potential to harm the public. I feel good about my decision and hope to be able to tackle other challenges that lie ahead in my professional career. I am happy to have been helped so well by my school and that they handled it professionally. In the process, no one was harmed and the problem was resolved. I feel fortunate to have such wonderful teachers to mentor my success and I look forward to providing optimal care of my patients in the future. I can prevent harm to them by following the code of ethics set forth by my profession. Additionally, I will be vigilant in ensuring that I monitor my peers as well. Each day is a chance to make a difference and an opportunity to grow as an individual by following the ethical guidelines set forth by my profession.
ReferencesBurch, S. (2009). The Dental HygienistÃÂs Role in Identifying and Responding toMethamphetamine Use and the Drug Endangered Child. ADHA Access, March:24-27.
American Dental Hygienists Assoc (2007). Bylaws Code of Ethics, Retreived March 11,2009, from http://www.adha.org/downloads/SDHA-Bylaws-Code-of-Ethics.pdfBeemsterboer, P., Odom, J., (2001). Ethical Principles in Clinical DecisionMaking. Journal of the California Dental HygienistsÃÂ Association, Volume 17,No. 1, Fall.
Ethics and Law in Dental Hygiene, Phyllis L Beemsterboer, RDH, MS, EdD Saunders,2002.
(One more resource coming soon!)