On beginning DFT during COVID-19 and volunteering to fight against it.
At the start of 2020, I was looking forward to graduating from my final year of dentistry at Manchester University and starting my career. By March, we’d all been sent home. I graduated, but it was a strange and sad end to my university experience. As both a trainee dentist and a volunteer COVID-19 vaccinator, I have witnessed both the highs and lows of my patients over the past year. It has been a challenging time to enter DFT, but a rewarding experience to be on the front lines of the pandemic as a key health worker.
Entering DFT during COVID-19
“I had less exposure to the usual treatments than the trainees of previous years.”
I entered DFT in September having not seen a patient in 6 months. It was daunting to start my career in the middle of a pandemic. There was PPE and lengthy fallow time to negotiate. The rules and regulations were continually adjusted as the situation evolved, and nobody knew what to expect.
I had also had less exposure to the usual treatments than the trainees of previous years. To start with I spent the bulk of my time triaging by phone, only able to admit patients for emergencies. Despite this, I don’t believe I have missed out on any essential learning or experience. Some in-person training such as oral surgery has been adapted to make it possible to go ahead. But a lot of our training was and could be delivered online.
Vaccinating as part of DFT
As part of our DFT, the East Yorkshire deanery organised contractually for us to be trained to help out with the pandemic by vaccinating one day a week. My first shift was on Christmas Eve, which was surreal but exciting. We are assessed and this counts towards our DFT competencies. And I enjoyed the experience so much that I now volunteer at two different vaccination locations, in York and Hull, in my spare time. I have now given over 2,000 people the first dose of the vaccine.
The atmosphere in the vaccination centres is fantastic. Many of the more elderly people coming to be vaccinated have commented that the spirit in the vaccination tent is reminiscent of the camaraderie during the Second World War. For many people, the trip to be vaccinated is the first time they have been out in public since March 2020. This is their first step to a return to normality and they often become very emotional.
It’s such a rewarding experience to be part of, and it makes a real difference to everyone. I’m happy to spend a few hours over my weekends helping to take the strain off the NHS by volunteering. I even had the chance to give the vaccine to my own father, which was great fun and a wonderful relief!
“You learn far more as a DFT than you do as a dental student.”
At this stage of the pandemic, I’m being exposed to more normal courses of treatment at my practice. It’s not business as usual by any means but, slowly but surely, we’re getting to see more of our patients in practice. I am proud of the work we have done to prioritise our most vulnerable or high-risk patients once we were able to book patients in for more routine treatments.
I used to think that the higher the number of extractions I performed at university, the better dentist I would be when I graduated. This year I’ve learned that this is not necessarily the case. Even with the pandemic restrictions, you learn far more as a DFT than you do as a dental student. I am also building a lot of resilience; earlier this week, I completed 7 straight hours of AGP in full PPE.
Looking to the future
I am hopeful that opportunities to perform more usual treatments will continue to open up as the vaccination programme steams ahead. During my last vaccination shift in York, we were already vaccinating the 55+ age range, so things look promising.
Once the crisis is over, I look forward to improving my skillset as a dentist still further. The longevity of the trusted relationships that I see my associates have built with their patients really appeals to me. After this into-the-frying-pan start, I look forward to working a career as a dentist which allows me to continue to make a difference in my patients’ quality of life.
Dental Foundation Trainee in Yorkshire