Dr. John P. O'keefe


Turning the elephant

Dr. John P. O'Keefe

A few weeks ago I received a very gratifying, yet amusing, e-mail message from a dentist. My correspondent told me that he had been reading my editorials with interest, and that he appreciated my opening moves with regard to the remake of the Journal, as well as my "appeal to the dental community to move with me." He went on to caution me, however, that "the remaking of an elephant (large, entrenched, given to ponderous movements, thick skinned and therefore impervious to all but the most forceful broadsides) is a delicate task." During this first year as editor,

I have often wrestled with a dilemma: whether to move fast in making changes to the Journal, or to proceed slowly. My enthusiasm for developing the publication, and my admiration for the flexibility of commercial publications, makes me impatient for change. However, I am conscious that the Journal has a mandate that is different from the profit-orientated mandate of commercial magazines, and that we have a very important tradition to uphold. I don't want to fall into the trap of "throwing out the baby with the bath water."

Ottawa is a place where people have to live and work with ambiguity. My position is no different. To borrow a political metaphor, the editor of the Journal must be both a progressive and a conservative at the same time. When I joined the organization, I made a commitment to seek ways to improve the Journal, and to make changes as I found better ways of doing business.

Before making wholesale changes, however, I felt it was very important to get to know you, your concerns, and your needs with regard to the Journal. Since January, I have focussed on getting out of my office to meet with practitioners, academics and members of the dental industry. The idea behind these outreach activities is to create my own network of people, get them to become actively involved with the Journal, and use their collective talents to ensure its continued development. My success or failure as editor depends on getting a large number of Canadian dentists to write articles, review manuscripts and suggest improvements.

This year, I met and spoke to many practitioners by attending dental conventions in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Yarmouth, and St. Johns. I also visited over half the dental schools in Canada, and discussed the Journal with deans, faculty members and students. And at every opportunity, I met exhibitors at the dental trade shows. If the welcome I have received to date can be taken as a yardstick, there is a lot of goodwill in our community for the Journal.

In a sense, I have been walking around the elephant, admiring its tusks, tweaking its tail, and appreciating its size and weight. I feel that I have been getting a good sense of what changes are desired and needed to develop the Journal as Canada's premier dental publication. But I need your input. Over the next few months, we will be formally polling you for your views on how the Journal is developing and how you want it to change. The data we receive will be used to make noticeable changes in the publication between now and the end of this year.

At the beginning of June, staff presented CDA's communications and membership committee with an interim report on the future of CDA publications. A number of options, ranging from conservative "micro level" changes to radical "macro level" changes, were put forward for consideration at that meeting. For a number of important reasons, however, the committee endorsed a prudent approach for the next year.

This approach will involve: maintaining the frequency of publication and range of distribution of the Journal, making the publication look more pleasing and easier to read, overhauling the peer review process, and putting new names on the list of editors involved with the publication. Essentially, the committee said it is time to turn and guide the elephant, rather than cut off its trunk.

In order to make the Journal more responsive to the needs of Canadian dentists, I have set up a network of e-mail contacts around the country. I have asked representatives from local dental societies, provincial associations, regulatory authorities, dental schools and specialty associations to enter into regular correspondence with me. This way, I can get a better sense of the clinical topics that need to be discussed in the Journal, and of the news items and issues we should follow up on. I can also get regular feedback about how we are doing as we develop the Journal. This contact network has started small, but I am sure it will grow as more groups nominate representatives.

A number of dentists have commented to me that they can see the changes that have been introduced to the Journal over the past few months. Others tell me that it feels as if it is somehow becoming more "accessible." I have found this feedback encouraging. Please continue to send in letters, opinion pieces, and articles.

Have a great summer!

John P. O'Keefe
1-800-267-6354 ext. 2297

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