Retirement from U of M won’t stop dentist’s crusade for patient safety
When Dr. Nita Mazurat embarked on her dental education in the 1970s, her class at the University of Alberta consisted of three women and 47 men.
“You learn to be tough pretty fast,” recalls the forthright academic, who has just retired from the Dr. Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, but will stay involved in oral health care as a leader in the field of infection control.
Mazurat’s husband Randall, a fellow dentist, preceded her in joining the U of M faculty. When she was hired as an instructor in 1997, she was the lone woman in the department of restorative dentistry. She went on to attain the rank of associate professor.
“People thought I would have an easy ride because of my husband being here,” says the dentist, who was raised on a farm near Camrose, Alta. “Actually, I had to do twice as much to get half the recognition.”
The fortitude, sense of humour and strong interpersonal skills that helped Mazurat thrive in a male-dominated profession have been key assets since her passion for infection prevention and control (IPAC) in dentistry took hold about 22 years ago.
She has become a nationally respected expert on standards for sterilization of instruments, water lines and treatment areas, as well as hand hygiene, prevention of injuries and procedures for dealing with contamination.
“It just matters to me,” she says. “At the heart of it is patient safety. Whether you’re in a foot-care clinic, a hospital or a dental office, patients should expect every facility to meet the same standards for their protection.”
Mazurat is speaking on infection control this weekend at the 2019 Manitoba Dental Convention. She has not only been responsible for IPAC at the dental college, but is heavily involved in IPAC guidelines for the Manitoba Dental Association and sits on national committees that hammer out Canada-wide standards.
It’s not an easy role, she says, because some dentists resist change, especially when it costs their practices money and time. There’s a gendered aspect to the struggle for compliance, she says, because these cleanliness issues have traditionally been viewed as women’s responsibilities, “like kitchen and laundry stuff.”
Dentistry and dental hygiene students readily accept up-to-date infection-control standards, she says, but once they graduate and join a practice, they may feel powerless to speak up if they see others cutting corners.
Mazurat has met with plenty of pushback. “Everybody in infection control is accustomed to being dismissed and attacked for the concepts,” she says. “I’m well suited to it because I’m resilient, I listen, and I’m tough enough that I can handle it. It’s really about education.”
There’s a major cultural shift underway in Canadian dentistry, she says, as standards for “medical device reprocessing” move closer to those used in hospitals. That term refers to all the steps involved in sterilizing reusable devices, including leaving them in sterile packaging until their next use.
“In dentistry, we used to sterilize instruments and put them into a drawer. We’re moving away from those outdated practices.”
Now that she has retired, Mazurat is accepting national and international speaking engagements as an IPAC educator. One legacy she’s proud to leave for patient safety at the dental college is the creation of refuge areas – parts of the building that are designed to be safe during fire alarms. This is vital, she says, because dental patients can be in mid-surgery when an alarm goes off.
Another role where she leaves big shoes to fill is as director of the college’s International Dentist Degree Program (IDDP). The program prepares foreign-trained dentists for accreditation in Canada. It has graduated dentists from countries such as Brazil, Hungary, India, Iran, Nigeria, Poland and Venezuela.
Mazurat urges oral health professionals to respect the wisdom of international dentists. “IDDP students add to our body of knowledge because they come with different ideas,” she says. “I’ve heard really terrific insights from them.”