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Ethics Goes To The Movies

By: Dr. Ethan Puryear

In 2008 the ADA created an ethics video contest for dental students.  Videos entered in the contest must show an ethical dilemma that highlights one or more of the ADA code of ethics principles.  All entries must be original works with no copyrighted video or music included.  Winners are announced and displayed at the ADA Annual Session.  Students from VCU’s class of 2014 have submitted an entry for each of the last two years. 

Our video for the 2012 contest was titled “The Spirit of Dentistry.”  It is the story of a student who separates a file while performing a root canal treatment on a patient.  The student must decide between being honest about the separated file and losing the endodontic  case or keeping quiet and finishing his last endo requirement for graduation.  At this point he is visited by a mysterious character who offers a glimpse into the past and the future of the student’s career. 

Initially, the student is shown a flashback to his preclinical endo lab.  In the flashback the student is shown modifying a competency tooth before turning it in.  Although the student is dishonest with his professors, he justifies the situation because no patients were harmed since it was “just a lab.”  The spirit also shows the student what his future will look like if he continues to make similar decisions.  In the flash forward the student is in front of the board of dentistry.  As the board members read off the allegations brought against the now practicing dentist, he realizes that these poor decisions have compromised the care provided to his patients.  Seeing these situations helps the student look past his graduation requirements and make the decision that is best for the patient.   

Making the ethics video forced us to think through common ethical scenarios.  We wanted to show a student who was not a bad person but someone who made a few bad decisions in tough situations.   We consulted with faculty members on what situations were most likely to get dentists, including student dentists, in trouble.  We were advised that everyone makes mistakes but that it was important to handle those mistakes in an ethical manner.

As students, we are not burdened with marketing a practice, billing insurance and that first student loan payment is still a year or two away.   Many of us are still forming opinions about our personal treatment philosophy and how we want to practice in the future.  Making the ethics video was not only fun but in some ways forced us to consider these aspects of dentistry that we do not deal with on a day to day basis yet.  Stay tuned to see the results of this year’s ADA student ethics video contest.  In the meantime, grab some popcorn and see the links below for previous winners and VCU’s current entry.

Virginia Dental Journal, Volume 89, Number 4 - October-December 2012