Reflective Essay on Professionalism in the Workplace

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Professionalism is widely regarded as a key concept in all aspects of working society not only in the dental sector. Its meaning is well known but broad, each individual will have their own interpretation of what they see as a professional person. Most will agree with the attributes described by Mason (2016) that will qualify someone to be considered professional; neat appearance, confident demeanor, be reliable, ethics, and organization amongst other attributes.

Professional integrity on the other hand is a more narrowed concept. It is a person who bases their decisions on moral and ethical values and in turn, is always honest and accountable even when no one is around.

“Professional integrity thus defines the professional who consistently and willingly practices within the guidelines of the mission of a chosen profession under the obligation of a Code of Ethics.” (, 2012).

Within dentistry, the ethical standards of professionalism are set out by the General Dental Council (GDC) and are a core part of education for any role within dentistry from dental nurse to dentist. The 9 ethical principles written in the GDC Standards for the Dental Team (2013) are instilled into students when training and is expected that individuals nurture these concepts and develop them throughout their careers. Following these principles ensures the general public has continued faith in the dental sector and is utilized to provide successful treatment that is in the patient’s best interest. Following the guidance set out in these standards at all times will ensure a high level of professional integrity. This seems easy in theory, but practically there are hurdles that most individuals will come up against within their dental career. How individuals behave and react in these situations is a reflection of their professional integrity and will influence how they are seen by other members of staff and patients.

The ideals of professional integrity, its growth, as well as situations that can erode this ideal over time will be examined in this essay. It will include a discussion of how professional integrity can be maintained and how it affects the dental sector as a whole.

The Role of Professional Integrity

  • Maintain faith – people coming for appointments – ensure overall dental health and wellbeing
  • Ensure confidentiality – sensitive subject – invasive area - GDPR

Having a consistent level of professional integrity will provide patients with a sense of safety and a lack of judgment. This is particularly important when providing care to those patients who are anxious/phobic. These integral attributes will encourage these individuals to return for dental treatment. This is not only imperative to maintain good oral health but can lead to a better overall quality of life.

Growth of Professional Integrity

Echoed throughout university learning is the importance of professionalism within the dental sector. Masella (2007) believes that the development of a student’s professionalism should be the most important mission of dental education. One of the first literary documents given to students is the ‘Student Professionalism and Fitness to Practice’, written by the General Dental Council (2016). This guidance aims to set out the standards of conduct that are expected of an individual in study to become a registered dental professional. This document ensures that students are aware of the high expectations placed upon them due to the very high degree of responsibility that comes with this career path. As mentioned, the public place their trust in dental registrants, and thus must retain integrity.

So what happens when you come up against barriers in dentistry where you are asked to compromise your professional integrity?

The Fall of Professional Integrity

  • Implications of complacency – no room in the dental sector
  • Slowly erode own personal standing over time
  • Is some erosion expected?
  • Time restraints/staff issues
  • Hawthorn theory

It is difficult to comprehend that an individual who does not place high importance on professionalism would choose this profession, understanding the career-long expectations that are expected of them.

Despite this, there are numerous barriers workers are up against that may erode their professional integrity over time.

One such instance is working in an environment where the standard of working is lower than your own. It is argued that the most dangerous phrase in business is ‘We have always done it this way.’ It is the attitude of someone who is comfortable with how they do things and may not know or want to change.

“We know that past success is no guarantee for the future, especially when the only constant is change.” (Boogaard, n.d).

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And this could not be truer in the dental industry, with new regulations and techniques being implemented on a regular basis, there is no place in the dental sector for complacency and this kind of attitude. But it does happen. And this mindset will fester and worsen over time and potentially be adopted by other members of the team until this old way of thinking is the habit of the whole practice. This erosion of professional integrity can lead to substandard work and patients not receiving a high standard of care.

As well as being mindful of other team members working ethics, one must ensure our own attitude does not slip. It could be argued that with experience come complacency and individuals feeling they do not need to continue their professional development.

Provisions to Maintain Professional Integrity

Teamwork, according to Englehardt-Nash (2013) can have a direct impact on the success of the practice. If a workplace can have authentic and open communication with each other, then the practice as a whole will have a better professional relationship, and subsequently, the patients will receive a consistently high standard of care.

This opinion is reflected by the General Dental Council, as it is one of its nine ethical principles. They state that individuals should ‘work with colleagues that are in the patient’s best interest.’ Dental professionals working in sync with each other and helping one another to be the best clinicians will help maintain good working morale and professional integrity.

It is easy to assume all individuals who choose this profession would work in this way, but if there is a member of the dental team who is not acting within their scope or providing continuous substandard care, it is the ethical duty of others in the dental team to whistleblow. As mentioned above, the actions and habits of one individual can cause other staff members to copy the behavior and lower standards. Therefore it is important to have clear communication to either bring up issues in-house or follow protocols in the whistle-blowing policy.

To work in the dental sector, registrants are required to fulfill a certain amount of post-qualification development called CPD (continuing professional development).

“It refers to the process of tracking and documenting the skills, knowledge, and experience that you gain both formally and informally as you work, beyond any initial training.” (Johnston, n.d).

Each CPD cycle lasts 5 years and at which time you must complete a certain amount of hours of verifiable learning. It is a process where you expand on current knowledge and reflect on what you have learned and how it will affect your future practice. The GDC place the utmost importance on CPD as they believe it is “at the heart of what it means to be a professional”. As a result, the General Dental Council has included the need for the maintenance and development of skills as one of the 9 principles. As well as CPD, registrants also must construct a personal development plan (PDP) to map out their learning and undergo regular appraisals.

The author believes this is due to the ever-changing nature of the dental field. Because of this, dental professional knowledge needs to be ever-changing. This ensures knowledge is up to date and subsequently patients will receive a high standard of care.


Upholding every rule and guideline can be unreasonable, and in some cases impossible due to time and staffing constraints. But it is important that dental professionals strive to work to best practice standards where possible. It is imperative to recognize when we fall short and put provisions in place to ensure that we do not get repeat incidents. This quote from Cooley sums it up nicely;

“…professionalism does not mean perfectionism. We all fall short at times; we are human. When we fall, we pick ourselves up and get back in the game.” (Cooley, 2016).

Being supported by a dental team who is able to provide knowledge and encouragement is the main asset to maintaining professional integrity. Being surrounded by like-minded professionals who work to the best standard even when no one is around can only provide the patients with the highest quality of care. It is imperative for dental professionals to be mindful of their integrity as they gain experience, as this can lead to complacency. “The truth of the matter is, being a professional and acting as such is timeless.”

It is clear that professional integrity plays a major role in the workings of a dental team and must be upheld throughout one's career to maintain a good rapport with the general public and provide the best quality of care to patients.

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