Being Chair of the Dental Council has been an interesting capstone to my career, as not only is my term on the Council coming to an end I also intend to retire from all dentistry – we all have a use-by date.
It is appropriate that I reflect on my term on a personal note, and my comments do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council. One does not aspire to the role of Chair of the Council in order to seek personal glory. Indeed, brickbats tend to outnumber the bouquets! Instead, it gives a quiet sense of professional satisfaction when dealing with the challenges, and there are many that come with the task.
As I look back over the past six years on the Council, I think that dentistry, in a regulatory sense, is in pretty good shape. The graduates coming onto the register are capable young practitioners from both Auckland University of Technology and the University of Otago, both of which run fine programmes. Otago University was credited with being the eighth best dental faculty in the world, despite the much needed new clinical block still being in its formative stages. It just shows that good staff and good students, not bricks and equipment, produce good graduates. Next year will see the introduction of new outcome-focused accreditation standards, a joint project with our Australian counterparts, which should enhance assurance that our graduates are up to the mark. Further assurance will come from the new examination process for overseas-trained dentists, as will the completion of the competencies and attributes framework for specialists, a joint project being undertaken with the Dental Board of Australia.
The 2016 year may, or may not, see the introduction of a new scope of practice, Oral Health Therapy. This is causing some controversy but the proposal for the scope is a reflection of the times. Whatever the outcome, the public will be assured that practitioners are competent and safe to practice within their respective scopes. As an aside, if the market demands, I see no reason why an education provider cannot offer a stand-alone dental hygiene programme, provided it ticks all the accreditation boxes.
With respect to the current dental workforce, we are in good shape here too. Overall, our practitioners are very capable and, in terms of the proportion of complaints and notifications, from an international perspective we are as good as any, better than most. However, as one of our former councillors kept reminding us, the biggest room in the house is the room for improvement. It is still disappointing the number of practitioners who come to the Council’s attention, and effort should be made to reduce the number of at-risk practitioners. An obvious starting point is the introduction of a new recertification strategy. Frankly, I think the current continuing professional development regimen does not cut it. At best, it is continuing education; at worst, it is a brownie point, box-ticking exercise. To me, professional development means more than that. I would like to see something along the lines of a continuous quality improvement regimen introduced that embraces assurance of fitness to practise, maintaining up-to-date knowledge and skills, compliance with professional standards and maintaining collegial practice, all of which should be relevant to one’s individual practice. The Standards Framework, as introduced by the Council this year, will become a cornerstone for any new recertification framework and I am sure practitioners will embrace a quality improvement approach.
The Council intends to improve its communications with stakeholders. It is surprising to learn how little some practitioners know regarding the workings of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 and what the Council can and cannot do. While the Council wishes to operate in an unassuming way, practitioners should be well aware of their legal obligations. It is encouraging that after almost twelve years of the commencement of the Act, we finally have unanimous acceptance from the various dental workforce groups that it is indeed Council's role to set professional standards. With this now understood, I look forward to a constructive input from the professional community to assist the Council to write and revise professional and practice standards.
A highlight of my term as Chair has been the formation of the International Society of Dental Regulators (ISDR). Yes, a rather boutique organisation, in which New Zealand has been at the forefront of its inauguration. Currently, Council’s Chief Executive, Marie Warner, is the President of the organisation, which is an honour in itself. Dentistry is now part of a global market, and its aim is to align dental regulation globally and to set various international standards, albeit at a principle level, to ensure dentistry is practised consistently and safely around the world. ISDR developed accreditation standards and competencies for dentists that have been endorsed in principle by member jurisdictions for consultation. Early in the 2016 ISDR will be consulting on these with its stakeholders and dental regulatory bodies. This work aligns well with the academic community that is aiming for international convergence of quality assurance, benchmarking and assessment systems to improve dental education and aid mutual recognition of qualifications. Even the possibility of a global syllabus has been mooted.
In departing, I must make special mention of the work done by Marie Warner. As a chief executive officer, I hold her in my highest esteem, and her business and leadership skills are remarkable. She runs a tight ship. And, like any good ship, it also needs a capable crew. I am constantly amazed by the dedication and hard work that the secretariat staff put in. It is certainly appreciated by the Council. I would also like to thank all our independent contractors whose roles include, but are not limited to, supervisors, reviewers, working party and committee members, professional advisors, educators, professional conduct committees and Tribunal members, and health advisors. Special mention should also be made of those who have made submissions in response to various consultations that the Council is wont to impose upon you on a not infrequent basis. Contrary to popular opinion, the Council does value constructive feedback and takes all submissions into consideration when formulating a position, even if it means conducting a second consultation round on occasions.
Finally, I would like to thank the support of my Deputy Chair, Robin Whyman, and fellow members of the Council. We are an eclectic bunch and are often called upon to make some hard and unpopular decisions. The debate around the table can be vigorous at times yet we always seem to be able to reach a consensus. Your dedication and wise counsel is appreciated. Some members will be leaving the Council at the end of year, but at this point I am unsure as to how many. To those of you who are moving on, I wish you well for the future. For those who are staying, keep up the good work.
That’s it from me.