The old adage 'recruit for attitude, train for skills' – something well understood in the so-called service industries – is particularly applicable to the dental setting. While clinical skills are, naturally, fundamental to what we do, it is often the 'soft skills' such as communication and the demonstration of empathy by which patients judge their experience of the service we provide. It is noteworthy that commercial organisations with a global reputation for high levels of customer service invest significantly in staff training, valuing it as highly as sales and marketing in recruiting and retaining customers. There are many ways in which the team approach to learning can be applied, including, but not limited to:

  • team meetings led by team members in turn,
  • peer review sessions, 
  • wider dissemination of learning from courses attended by individuals, and 
  • practice study groups. 

Team training can contribute to improved patient experience satisfaction and care outcomes and the contributions of individual team members can bring positive benefits to the team as a whole.

By way of example in a dento-legal context, we are currently seeing significant increases in the number of complaints directly to the GDC, often without the treating clinician having received any prior indication of patient dissatisfaction. We can do something to help prevent this. For example, patients who may not feel they can raise issues directly with the treating dentist or DCP, may well express a concern or low level disgruntlement to a receptionist or practice manager. If the team is well trained in the art of complaints handling, the situation may be identified and addressed early, with a view to preventing an escalation to a third party such as the GDC.  

A failure to invest in training of the whole team in this, and other, areas may give rise to common service errors, such as patients being advised that all complaints must be put in writing. Verbal complaints are, of course, entirely valid and if it is not possible to resolve matters there and then, the patient's verbally-expressed concerns should be carefully noted, acknowledged and an undertaking given to provide a response. It is DDU's experience that a simple error of this nature can often lead to further patient dissatisfaction, with additional concerns being raised with the practitioner or practice. The complainant may also copy the letter of complaint to third parties, with all the potential undesirable consequences that this may bring.

Six hands joined together

Photo credit: Getty

In summary, those who regulate the profession are now becoming rather more prescriptive as to the need for adequate team training. Compliance with their requirements is, of course, reason enough to put the necessary training arrangements in place and to be able to evidence that staff are adequately and appropriately trained. 

However, given that it is people who are a practice's biggest asset, team training is likely to be a wise investment in itself. It will show that colleagues are valued, adding to the sense of self-worth of individuals and team morale overall. Improving the competence, knowledge, skills and spirit of the team should translate to improved outcomes for patients, something which is, after all, our raison d'être.

Practices and/or team leaders should play a part in enabling and ensuring the compliance of team members with their individual CPD requirements.

Training – what the regulators say

Principle 6 of the GDC's Standards for the Dental Team says dental professionals must: 'Work with colleagues in a way that is in patients' best interests'. Standard 6.6.5 elaborates: 'You must encourage, support and facilitate the continuing professional development (CPD) of your dental team.' Clearly, this requires that practices and/or team leaders should play a part in enabling and ensuring the compliance of team members with their individual CPD requirements.  

CQC Regulation 18 relates to staffing. To ensure that staff are competent to carry out their roles, both at the outset and on an ongoing basis, it is a requirement that at the start of an employment an induction programme is undertaken and that a learning and development needs analysis is carried out. Staff should then be supported to make sure that they can take part in statutory training, other mandatory training and additional training specifically related to their role. Regular appraisal should be arranged and ongoing measures should be in place to ensure that competence is maintained.


This article was correct at publication on 07/09/2015. It 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.

John Makin

Head of the DDU

John Makin BDS PgDL PgCDE FHEA is head of the DDU. He qualified in Manchester in 1983 and has worked as a general dental practitioner in Lancashire and Devon before joining the DDU as a dento-legal adviser. He was involved with foundation training for many years as both a trainer and VT adviser/training programme director with the Manchester and Exeter DFT schemes. 

See more by John Makin