My dental foundation year was shaping up to be an incredible time. Diving into the world of clinical dentistry was a steep learning curve, both extremely challenging yet equally rewarding. However, as the year progressed, I knew it was time to look to the future and decide what I would do after completing dental foundation training.
Working in a hospital did not interest me at the time, having enjoyed the independence and freedom of practice. Taking a year out to travel was another option but I was eager to continue developing my own skills and knowledge (and also save up some money - that Indian wedding in the future isn’t going to pay for itself, is it?). Alternatively, working as a dental associate suited me very well and was definitely the right option for me. Decision made. Now all I had to do was find a job. Easy, right?
The journey begins
The process of finding a job was anything but easy. Some of my peers planned to stay on in their training practice or were offered dental associate jobs in nearby practices, which I imagine was a huge relief for them. For me, that was not an option and I had to secure a job for myself.
Having worked in an independent practice for my training year, the idea of working for a corporate was a relative unknown to me. One of my trainers offered me some insight into corporate dentistry, outlining the key advantages of doing so. These include the excellent training and CPD opportunities, an increased flexibility regarding the products you work with and being able to work in other practices in the corporate chain.
On the other hand, one of the biggest advantages of working for an independent practice is that the principal will most likely be working with you in the practice. Having benefited from this arrangement throughout my training, an independent practice was definitely my preference.
For me, assessing the location of potential practices was key. Having previously experienced several awkward moments where I kept bumping into my patients at the gym, who would then start to ask me for dental advice while I was working out, I realised the importance of not working too close to home. I was willing to travel for up to 30-40 minutes and did not want to move home.
Whichever practice I chose, working there for a longer period of time would allow me to assess the efficacy of my work and also to develop a loyal core of patients, who would consider me as 'their dentist'. I remember a patient travelling three hours to see my trainer, having been her patient in a previous practice - I guess this inspired me somewhat.
The early stages
UDA. Unit of Dental Activity. I still remember how those words filled me with dread when I started looking for a job. I worked in an area of particularly high need and my focus was to improve the quality of my dentistry before my speed. As a result, I was clueless on my UDA count as an associate.
My trainer advised that as a young dentist coming out of DF training, I should aim to complete 5,000 UDAs per annum, working a five day week. Whilst I felt the figure was fair with respect to the stage of my career I currently was at, I was disappointed because I felt I was capable of achieving much more. Nonetheless, I took the advice given by my trainer on board, with 5,000 UDAs over five days forming the basis of my search criteria.
Time to think it over
The process of searching and applying for jobs using 'BDJ jobs' was slightly disheartening. Most practices either did not reply or explained that they required somebody more experienced. I realised that no matter how driven I was as a dentist, I was still coming right out of dental foundation training. This made me a recruitment risk and so I knew I had to promote myself better. I knew my CV had to be better.
From the initial job searches, I realised how important it was to tailor my CV to each job advertisement. This demonstrated I could meet the demands of the specified role and so I ensured the following key points were included in my application:
- stating I had a driving licence and my own car - this was crucial for one job, which required the associate to work in two practices and be able to commute easily between them
- referring to my interest in children’s dental health - this was important for the practices where there were many primary schools in surrounding areas
- talking about my passion in construction of dentures - this is important if the practice treats a demographic of elderly patients.
It was essential, particularly as an FD, to think outside of the box when looking for jobs. Networking with speakers on DF study days helps to develop connections, if not for this current job search then at least for the future. What proved the most fruitful was sending my CV to each practice outlined on the area team list of practices on the NHS Choices website. This yielded two interviews for roles which had not even been advertised as yet.
The final frontier
Preparing for interviews, I strove to make an excellent first impression; ironed shirt, combed hair, polished shoes. I researched the practice - it was important to demonstrate why I wanted to work there.
A friend of mine turned up to his interview after having sent out an endless number of CVs. Due to this, he became confused of the job he was interviewing for and ended up preparing for the wrong practice; needless to say, he did not get the job.
To each interview I brought three things:
- photographs of patient treatments I had provided (having first sought the patients' consent)
- my EPDP clinical portfolio
- my most recent UDA schedules.
As I continued to be interviewed, I realised other factors which I initially overlooked were important to me. I realised digital radiography and rotary endodontics were almost a necessity of any potential practice, whereas considerations such as having a shorter commute became desirable rather than mandatory.
My final interview was at a family-run independent practice which I had secured by using NHS Choices and emailing them directly. This position was definitely the best of them all. With friendly staff, full time hours and the practice located twenty minutes from my home, it was perfect.
The only stumbling point was that they were recruiting someone to perform 6,000 UDAs over five days. I did not want to lose this opportunity but recognised I was taking a risk by agreeing to undertake so many UDAs. I was honest with them, which they appreciated, and I was able to successfully negotiate a reduction to 5,000 UDAs. Once the contract was signed, my job started two weeks after foundation training ended.
Funnily enough, I still seem to keep running into patients from my new practice in the gym…
Chirag graduated from Cardiff Dental School in 2014. Having completed his foundation training (DF1) in the Kent, Surrey and Sussex (KSS) Dental Deanery, he went on to work for a year in Harold Wood, Essex as a Dental Associate. At present, Chirag works as a year 1 dental core trainee in the Surrey and Sussex NHS Healthcare Trust.
See more by Chirag Mehta