Letters to the Editor: Good Character and the Dalhousie Dental Students

by Oral Health

he article by J. Koziebrocki and D. Litwin (Oral Health, April 2015) discusses why being of good character is a requisite for licencing dentists. The authors suggest that regulatory bodies charged with assessing the good character of the Dalhousie dental students should consider the following: “does the activity in question, weighed against all of the other past and present conduct of these students, provide reasonable grounds for the belief that they will not practice dentistry with decency, integrity, and honesty?” In addition, while they concede that the activity in question i.e. the Facebook comments are “undoubtedly offensive” the authors question if the postings “reach such a level that they should bar the students from practising dentistry.” Adopting a historical perspective permits these concerns to be addressed.

Apart from having the necessary academic qualifications, the thirteen male students in question must have demonstrated all of the behavioural, personality and moral traits deemed by Dalhousie University as necessary prior to acceptance into a professional program. According to the March 2nd 2015 edition of the Globe and Mail, the involved male dental students formed a private Facebook page in 2011 which, from its inception, contained misogynistic postings. This means that irrespective of the nature of the Facebook comments, the postings by late 2014 had not impeded either the academic or clinical competencies of the students as they progressed through their professional training. Indeed, until the exposure of the Facebook activities approximately six months prior to their graduation, there is no evidence to suggest that the students’ professors, clinical instructors, patients and classmates had any reason to doubt their decency, integrity and honesty. This was the state of affairs despite the students posting offensive comments for about three and a half years. All of this implies that the Facebook comments were examples of “dark humour and b/s” employed as possible stress relievers among a closely knit group without any intention of these thoughts ever becoming physical realities or public knowledge. Had the private nature of the Facebook been maintained the students would have graduated without any concerns as to the nature of their character. Therefore, to answer the question posed by Koziebrocki and Litwin it appears that the activity in question would not have impeded the ability of the involved students to become respected members of the profession.

The public exposure of the Facebook postings has resulted in a number of provincial dental regulatory agencies stating that, “they will scrutinize all male graduates from the Dalhousie class of 2015 for evidence of good character.” In this specific instance the regulatory agencies have some knowledge of the private musings, comments and opinions of a few anonymous students. How the agencies will determine to what degree the very private thoughts of each member of the class of 2015 will influence their professional acumen is unknown. However, unless the method is transparent, open to public scrutiny and applicable to all present and future graduating classes from all dental schools, the male students of the class of 2015 are being exposed to frank discrimination.

The sad unfortunate reality is that the entire Dalhousie class of 2015 is stigmatized. Inevitably some curiosity and even suspicion will adhere to them wherever they apply for licensure or employment. Understanding this will provide these young dentists with compelling reasons to demonstrate their innate professionalism and thus dispel any concerns regarding their decency, integrity and honesty. The involved male students have publically apologized for any misgivings that their private thoughts might have caused. The profession should accept this and their otherwise unblemished academic record, and accord them the same vetting procedures as all other graduates.


John Hardie. BDS, MSc, PhD, FRCDC.

Re: April 2015 Oral Health
Bonjour Dr Méchanic,
je viens tout juste de recevoir le Oral Health du mois d’avril 2015 et de lire votre Éditorial. Bie que j’aie pris ma retraite il y a 3 ans, je ne puis que m’incliner devant tant de sagesse vis-à-vis l’industrie dentaire. Je vous en félicite et souhaite en particulier que nos jeunes confrères lisent votre éditorial et qu’ils y réfléchissent.

Mes salutations et mon respect,
Michel Plamondon