How do you decide what you want to do for the rest of your life?
Well, if dentistry is your chosen career, it would be completely illogical not to find out as much as you can about the life and work of a dentist. One way to do this would be to spend some time with a dentist through work experience.
A recent article in the DDU journal highlighted some tips for dentists taking on work experience students. In this follow-up piece, I want to address work experience from the viewpoint of the student, talking about its benefits and sharing some top tips on how to get the most out of this precious opportunity. Hopefully it will help prepare future prospective dental students with information I wish I had been told beforehand.
1: Do some research and arrange your work experience in the area of dentistry that you would want to explore further.
I wasn't aware that dentists actually worked outside of 'high-street' NHS dental practice; in fact, increasing numbers seek work in private practice, in specialist practice, in community clinics as well as in hospital, law, media and research.
I always wanted to work as a dentist within the community, where I could build relationships and trust, and use my knowledge and skills to deliver care to people, but I wasn't sure exactly where my future lay. I carried out work experience at an NHS dental practice and a specialist private practice.
2: Look the part and behave professionally.
Ensure you dress appropriately. It would be a good idea to call the practice beforehand and ask what you should wear. They may even provide you with a clinical tunic.
It is important that you behave professionally, which includes no taking pictures/sharing patient information on social media. This can land you, and the practice, in a lot of trouble.
3: Be respectful of the patients.
Healthcare is a private and confidential matter, therefore treating patients with respect and dignity is a cornerstone to the workings of a dentist. Being allowed to shadow a dentist is a great privilege, but remember that they have to put the patient's interest first – and so should you.
It's completely understandable if a patient doesn't want a student peeping over the dentist's shoulder while they're getting a crown fitted, so don't be offended if the patient says no. Seeking the consent of the patient to simply stand and observe the procedure highlighted the nature of the world I was getting into, and it was the greatest eye-opener during my entire placement.
Remember never to do anything that puts anyone at risk – if you are not sure always ask a member of staff.
4: Be mindful of cross infection.
When you are allowed to observe, be mindful to the potential of spreading disease (cross infection) by either wearing appropriate equipment (glasses, face mask etc) or by staying a safe distance away.
Remember never to do anything that puts anyone at risk – if you are not sure always ask a member of staff, and check with the dentist or dental nurse what the appropriate safety and infection control measures are. This is not only making you and the people around you safe, but cross infection control is a vital subject to be tested on during first year exams, so you might as well start perfecting your hand washing!
5: Ask questions
Don't get bored standing in the corner, yawning while watching the sixth patient in a row get their braces tightened – ask questions!
Use the opportunity to ask the dental staff questions you probably won't get the chance to ask anyone before applying for dental school.
Make sure you speak to all of the members of the dental team. I wish I had spent more time talking to the reception and dental nurses.
Useful questions to ask people during your work experience
- What are the ups and downs of their profession?
- What drives them to get out of bed every morning?
- What was their experience of dental school like?
- Do they have any tips on what to do during and after dental school?
- What made them want to go down the pathway that led to their current position?
- Was there any other profession they considered and what made them choose dentistry over it?
6: Familiarise yourself with procedures
At the start of your placement, find out what procedures will be taking place over the days and ask permission to try and observe as many different ones as you can.
During my work experience, I got to see complex procedures like root canal treatment, veneer preparations and even an implant surgery by planning my days well. You can look into these in more detail after your work experience. This will give you a talking point when asked about your work experience at dental school interviews.
7: Don't just shadow the dentist
The dental practice is a multidisciplinary environment. I arrived at my work experience early so I could see the dental nurse prepare for the day. I also shadowed the reception staff which helped me learn how to plan appointments and speak to patients. The interpersonal skills shown by the reception staff shaped how I speak to patients today.
8: Keep a log of everything you've seen
You may see a lot of different things at your work experience so it's best to keep a logbook and jot things down. However, remember not to compromise the patient's confidentiality when taking notes!
I used my logbook to reflect on what I saw during the day and if I had any questions to ask the dental team the next day. I also found this helped me a great deal when preparing for dental school interviews; I could read through my logbook and refresh myself on the work experience I had undertaken months before.
I hope this article and my top tips have been helpful for you. Above all, make sure to enjoy your work experience - it is a vital part of your application into dentistry but also shapes the way you see your future profession.
Things you learn during your work experience will stick with you for life and it's always a nice feeling being taught something at university and knowing that you've seen it in practice before.