It's never too early to start learning management and leadership skills

Dental practice is a commercial, competitive world where your skills as a manager are as important as your skills as a dentist.

Even while you're a student, it's worth thinking about the management competencies you will need after graduation. Reflecting on your strengths and addressing possible weaknesses could give you the edge when applying for DF training and may make it easier to adapt when you enter the world of work.

The list below is a guide to the most important skills that will help you hit the ground running.

Leadership

Although you'll be a junior member of your practice you will still be expected to make clinical decisions and take responsibility for the care and treatment provided on your watch.

One important test of your leadership skills will be to establish effective, professional relationships with other members of the team, particularly your dental nurse. Their help and cooperation will enable you to provide the best possible care for patients. Plus, a friendly word from a colleague could help you avoid some of the pitfalls that await newly qualified dentists.

The GDC advocates a collaborative approach to team-working. Section 6 of Standards for the Dental Team states that dental professionals 'must treat colleagues fairly and with respect in all situations and all forms of interaction and communication'. Those who manage a team should ensure it has clear, shared aims and that members understand their roles and responsibilities.

It is natural to feel daunted at the prospect of assuming a leadership role but if you actively reflect on your interactions with colleagues and learn from these experiences you will almost certainly become more effective with time.

The value of management skills is now recognised in the dental curriculum. Of the four domains of dental foundation training (DFT), the majority are actually non-clinical skills

Time management

Keeping up with each day's appointment schedule and other routine tasks such as infection control and paperwork is an essential part of the job. It will also make your life easier because keeping patients waiting can result in anxious, irritated patients who may then complain to the practice. If you then put yourself under pressure to 'catch up', you may miss something important about a patient's condition or make a mistake.

Your trainer will understand that it will take you a while to get up to speed, but time management techniques can help. These include:

  • planning and prioritising tasks each morning
  • breaking difficult projects into smaller chunks to avoid becoming overwhelmed
  • using a time sheet (if you know you are spending too long on certain types of cases, you can ask for more support).

Photo credit: Getty Images

Effective communication

Clear, accurate and concise verbal and written communication is essential to every aspect of treating patients - from discussing the risks, benefits and alternatives of your proposed treatment to drafting a referral letter.

Effective communication skills are also valuable in the event of a complaint, or if you have difficulties with a colleague. When the going gets tough, the ability to listen, conduct yourself calmly and (where appropriate) assertively could make the difference between a constructive discussion and an aggressive confrontation.

It is always worth looking back on difficult encounters and considering how your language and demeanour might have affected the outcome. Your colleagues are also a good source of advice, or you could consider asking your trainer about communication skills courses.

Organisation

In addition to hands-on clinical dentistry you will need to keep on top of your paperwork, including record-keeping, referral letters, laboratory order forms and NHS dental activity forms, not to mention your CPD and personal development portfolio. For example, something as simple as omitting to check the day before an appointment that a piece of laboratory work has been returned can precipitate patient dissatisfaction.

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Patients are often unable to measure the standard of our dentistry but will make judgements by any means they can. In circumstances such as this a patient is likely to feel that the service has been poor, particularly if they have been inconvenienced or have suffered social embarrassment as a consequence of the oversight. This may cause them to question whether the dentistry is similarly sub-standard.

Be aware that the GDC expects you to keep up to date with the laws and regulations that affect your work so it’s well worth setting aside time to review the dental press and the regular advice and updates from the DDU.

Management on the curriculum

The value of management skills is now recognised in the dental curriculum. Of the four domains of dental foundation training (DFT) - clinical, communication, professionalism and management and leadership - the majority are actually non-clinical skills.

Current undergraduate applicants for DFT will be expected to demonstrate their aptitude for management as part of the 2015 selection process in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland does not have a national scheme and applicants are interviewed for specific training posts).

Specifically, the DFT applicant guide1 says the selection centres will assess:

  • organisation and planning - thoroughness and being able to prioritise
  • managing others and teamworking - understanding the importance of teamwork and working effectively with others
  • vigilance and situational awareness - monitoring developing situations and anticipating issues
  • coping with pressure - demonstrating initiative and resilience to cope with changing circumstances.

FOOTNOTES

1 Nationally Coordinated Dental Foundation Training Recruitment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - DFT National Applicant Guide 2015, 1 September 2014

This page was correct at publication on 20/04/2015. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.