Closing the professional gap: Get out of your professional niche and collaborate with others

By | November 3, 2020

Medicine and dentistry are two professions that on paper seem to be rather similar.

Both professions require extensive studying, grueling exams, and rigorous training. Both are experts at following procedures and guidelines, using evidence-based data and science to provide care to their patients to the highest possible standard. Patients trust us with their health because we are the experts. And we can all appreciate the responsibility of being the person our team looks to for leadership and guidance.

So why do physicians and dentists feel that they are so different from each other?

In early civilizations, there was no distinction between these two professions. In Ancient Egypt, around 2600 BC, Hesy Re was recognized as “the greatest of those who deal with teeth and physicians.” Around 500 to 300 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle both wrote about dental matters. In ancient Rome in 100 BC, a medical writer called Celsus wrote extensively in his compendium of medicine about toothaches, teething pain, oral hygiene, and jaw fractures. There was one healing profession.

The division of the two professions appeared in 1210 in France when the Guild of Barbers was established. The guild evolved into two parts, surgeons and lay barber-surgeons. Surgeons were the educated men that undertook training to perform complex surgical procedures, and the lay barber-surgeons dealt with routine hygiene, including shaving, bleeding, and extracting teeth.

Fast forward to today. It’s easy to find arguments for why dentists aren’t doctors, which profession is more worthy, and who felt they worked harder to get where they are. Our worlds are so divided that the idea that two professions (that came from the same origin) could work more closely together seems almost heartwarming.

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Our clinical worlds are becoming more intertwined as science and clinical research progress. One such area where the two professions can work side by side for the patients’ benefit is cardiovascular health.

Periodontal disease increases chronic inflammation levels for the patient and is a significant risk for many health issues; one, in particular, is atherosclerosis. Patients with periodontal disease are two to three times more likely to suffer an MI, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. Pregnancy and concurrent periodontitis increase the risk of premature labor and low birth weight infants. Understanding these examples and many other similar ones allows us to work more closely together. We have a mutual and united goal: the healthy patient.

Happier together

Modern life is hectic and busy. We juggle so many things at one time that it can be easy to lose sight of why we chose to be in medicine or dentistry. In essence, we can lose sight of our purpose.

Think about why you chose this career? Whether you’re a physician or a dentist, we’re willing to bet that helping people was near the top of your list.

That’s the point: We are all ultimately here because we care. Both professions are based on a sense of purpose that we are making a difference to our patients at whatever point in their life or illness we meet them.

This article in the British Medical Journal summarised what they felt made a good doctor:

We want doctors to have a balanced life and to care for themselves and their families as well as for others. In sum, we want doctors to be happy and healthy, caring and competent, and good travel companions for people through the journey we call life.

This is surely what we are all striving for

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When you pick your tribe, everything boils down to the similar life values we have and the desire to live the best life possible for ourselves, not the office we show up at! The desire to care for others, the shared goal of health for the whole person, the need for community, understanding, and acceptance are values we see as two female healthcare professionals that makes us “step across the aisle.”

Cross-pollination isn’t just for flowers

The advantages of working together are clear. The opportunity of cross-pollination between our two professions can only add to the diversity of both. This will develop encouragement and closer bonds between physicians and dentists. All the advantages can only strengthen the medicine 3.0 approach, which is all about connections and human relationships.

Physician Coaching Alliance (PCA) is a group that was formed on the idea that we are all better together. PCA’s mission is to provide stellar coaching to our physician colleagues so they can do their best work in the world. We believe that gone are the days that we see each other as the enemy. Instead, we believe working together is key to the success of the individual practitioner and healthcare as a whole.

During one of our group Zoom meetings, an affiliate member mentioned this group as using “cross-pollination” to achieve different results and perspectives from what we already have in healthcare and wellbeing. Diversity within teams has been shown to elevate companies and projects (don’t remember the study but should site it here). In a world of digital echo chambers, we believe working with someone from a different field of study can create great opportunities to tackle problems from a broader angle and uncover holistic solutions.

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We want to encourage our readers to build bridges and cross that divide. At the end of the day, our differences boil down to the letters after our names and the part of the body we focus on. Compared to everything we have in common, the distinctions seem small.

We have so much to gain from working together, and we owe it to our patients, clients, and ourselves to come together and offer our best. Reach out and collaborate today.

Karen Tindall is an orthodontist. Errin Weisman is a family physician and founder, Truth Prescriptions.

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