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Choosing your path in dentistry

The career opportunities opened by pursuing a dental degree have never been greater. But when leaving dental school for the next stage of training in NHS general practice, it can be hard to imagine or even be aware of the wealth of options available.

Andrea Ogden
Andrea Ogden BSc BDS MJDF RCS (Eng.) PGcert. Undergraduate and Career Development Lead

Many of us leave dental school with no defined idea of which career paths to pursue, yet we can often feel like everyone else has it figured out! For some, there is a clear plan of where they would like their professional journey to take them. But maybe they haven’t settled on a precise pathway to that destination. Others would instead prefer to gain more experience and skills in different competencies. They are therefore more focused on the next steps of Dental Foundation Training (DFT), rather than looking further ahead to the future.

Increased options for postgraduate training

Over the last few years, we have seen the introduction of huge changes to the structure of post graduate training. In DFT, there has been an increase in the number of pilot two year Dental Foundation Training/Dental Core Training (DCT) schemes, alongside the established two year longitudinal and one year DFT schemes. More recently, academic DFT places have been introduced, where trainees receive a dedicated day a week for academic research. This particularly increases the options for trainees interested in careers in hospital dentistry or academia.

September 2021 saw the publication of Health Education England’s Advancing Dental Care Report, which devises ‘a blueprint for reform of dental education and training’. The report made a series of proposals, amongst which were to increase opportunities for flexible working for DCTs and speciality trainees, as well as more flexible entry routes into training.

The GDC has also introduced an assessed applications process allowing individuals without a certificate of specialist training (CCST) to enter the specialist register.

Ultimately, these changes have the potential to increase the opportunities for trainees to access and complete further postgraduate training.

How to make the right first steps for you

As the time of finishing your studies inches closer, many students start to consider what the future could look like. DFT is the year when things will really start to come into focus. It gives you the opportunity to improve your general practice skills and gain insight into the specialities available for you to choose from. It puts you in touch with a vast network of trainers and specialists who can guide you and provide you with opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of a specific speciality or pathway.

With so much choice, choosing your path can be challenging, but there are actions you can take to manage your concerns."

This is the ideal time to be unsure. During DFT, you will have the opportunity to dramatically increase your clinical competency. Things will start to clarify, and thanks to practice and support from your trainers you might find yourself wanting to pursue subjects you were not interested in before. With so much choice, choosing your path can be challenging, but there are actions you can take to manage your concerns. Building connections and learning from the professional journeys of your colleagues can be key. Talk to people who have made similar choices to the ones you would like to pursue and listen to their story. Another vital element is researching application processes early. This will give you a chance to get ahead with the evidence required to support your application and will allow you to make sure it is the right decision for you.

Don’t just go with the flow. Your career path needs to be unique to you. Taking time to work out what your professional and personal goals are, even in the short term, can help to bring your own specific requirements into focus. This will help you make the right choice, whether it’s a practice, location or training post.

Here for you

Our membership offers benefits to students and postgraduates alike. We support members through every step of their professional development. Student members benefit from a graduate offer which gives you all benefits of the Essential membership for just 49p per day.

We offer over 166 hours of verifiable CPD per year available to members through our recently upgraded CPD hub. You can also access the BDJ portfolio and Europe’s largest dental library. As your trade union we will support you throughout your career journey, providing entry to your local and national network of peers to help you along the way.

You can also access expert advice on topics from postgraduate education to employment law, including Associate contract checking which is worth £1000 on the high street. If you are interested in becoming a member you can find out more on our website or call us to join over the phone. Together we are stronger.