The career model in the world of dentistry has changed dramatically over the past decade. Long gone are the days when a wide-eyed graduate entered the profession, stuck up a brass plaque and simply got to work building a career.
There is a perception that it was a little easier a few years ago, and if our predecessors worked hard and followed the example of their principal, there was a natural career progression, usually towards practice ownership.
Previous generations did not have to overcome the barriers encountered by young dentists today. The growth in dental corporates and the increasing competition for jobs amongst our new graduates are just a few examples of how the changing landscape makes this a very different journey.
There is also the issue of growing student debt and the increasing cost of professional indemnity that must be met before we even begin to earn our crust.
Therefore, it's no surprise that upon completing dental foundation training, the youngest members of our profession feel increasingly under pressure to differentiate themselves from the crowd in order to "make it"
Which path to choose?
In my opinion, a sense of urgency is often detectable when speaking with new graduates. Many are already looking well beyond their first DFT year.
Many have decided they will be entering dental core training (DCT) posts and are already asking themselves, "which specialist pathway should I take?"
I often wonder is the reasoning behind the decision to take this path sometimes based on a perceived necessity, rather than a passion for a particular clinical domain?
I have the utmost respect for anyone embarking on the long pathway of specialist training. The profession simply would not function without the expertise those individuals.
However, specialist training is a long and expensive road, and it is important for our young dentists know that a fulfilling and successful career in general practice is still worth considering, and can be a great option if you really aren't sure yet where your passion lies.
Working in general dental practice
We have all heard the expression when describing a generalist dentist, "a jack of all trades, master of none". Of course, this is a false dichotomy. It is entirely possible to be a jack-of-all-trades, as well as a master of many.
As a GDP, you will prosper in a variety of environments and gain a wide range of skills. You can use your extensive array of knowledge and skills to flourish and it is this diversity that will make you an extremely valuable professional.
When considering what will differentiate you from others, ask yourself, what am I good at? What motivates me? It may well be that you are great at building a rapport, communicating and empathising with your patients, as well as having the skills to offer a wide range of treatments, and that is what makes you stand out.
My journey so far
I graduated almost seven years ago from Queens University, Belfast. Spending my first two years as a general professional trainee (GPT) provided me with the opportunity to work in a hospital setting and in the community dental service, alongside general practice.
I quickly decided to apply for the MFDS qualification from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow to improve my knowledge and to keep my options open.
I had no idea where I wanted to end up. At one point or another I had an interest in pretty much all of the specialties, and the problem was that this changed weekly.
With so many options at this stage, I can assure you that uncertainty is par for the course. However, as time went on and I started to see my patients in practice returning at six-monthly intervals, they seemed fairly pleased to see me….most of the time!
Building that relationship and earning my patients trust and loyalty was what made me realise that this was where I belonged.
I am still working in the practice I trained in. I was fortunate enough to have a principal that acted as a mentor and always encouraged me to follow through on my goals.
To put it simply, it is invaluable to have someone there who says, "Crack on and let me know if you need me". Your principal should be someone who respects your professional autonomy but is there to support and guide you should you need it.
I urge all young dentists to settle for nothing less when choosing a practice.
The relentless pursuit of better
It is easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day stresses of practice life and just keep moving on that "treadmill" they all talk about. However, it is crucially important not to rest on your laurels and to keep developing in this profession. We are all qualified to practice but setting ourselves apart and maintaining the enthusiasm for our passion is up to us.
Some of the steps I have taken may sound simple but made a huge difference for me. For example, I began training in the restorative phase of implant treatment. Although not surgically placing implants, I still had the opportunity to be involved in these cases and to provide the proper after care that my patients deserved.
I furthered my training in endodontic techniques and over time referred less and less of the 'so-called' complicated cases.
I also saw an improvement in my extraction skills after spending some time observing my local specialist carrying out minor oral surgery.
As you steadily improve the quality and diversity of what you offer, even if it is in small steps, this breeds confidence in your ability to meet the needs of your patients.
I have also recently completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Clinical Education and I have taken up a post as a clinical tutor in my local teaching hospital. Spending a little time outside your comfort zone each day is invigorating and keeps life that little bit more interesting.
My plans for the future are to continue my professional development. I aim to apply for a Masters in Restorative Dentistry in the next few years and have recently started to discuss the possibility of practice ownership. Something that is still within reach for young dentists, despite what we hear about the corporates taking over!
Support each other
It is vitally important to remember you are never alone. It is not uncommon to feel a little isolated at times when working in practice. Building a network of support will help you in any situation.
Why not go along and meet like-minded professionals at your local BDA Young Dentist Group (YDG) event? You could also get involved with a BDA committee or simply just reach out to your peers with a text and ask how they are getting on. You will learn that we are stronger together.
So if general practice is where you see yourself, then follow that dream. We all know how hard it is to get to this point. You are a highly skilled individual but investing in yourself and building your armamentarium is imperative in modern day dentistry. This will not only help you become more employable, it is guaranteed to improve your job satisfaction and will give you the ability to offer your patients the high standard of care they deserve.James McKeeGDP and Young Dentist Committee Member
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At the 2016 British Dental Conference and Exhibition
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