As a young child, I always had a desire for a career in the medical sector. Our family general practitioner at that time suggested dentistry, and after exploring all the options, dental therapy appealed to me the most. I like the hands-on aspect and interacting with patients - although maybe subconsciously a fascination with drills was the driving force, as my father was a carpenter and I used to help him.
I qualified as a dental hygienist and therapist 27 years ago from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, formally known as The London Hospital. I remember other dental hygienists saying that it is 'tedious work', but I must say I enjoy my work and certainly do not find it tedious! I currently work two days in a general dental practice and three days as a tutor at Barts and the London, teaching both undergraduate dental students and dental hygiene and therapy students (BSc).
Day to day
Every day is different, and perhaps that is the secret to my happiness and my work not being tedious. Professionally over the last 27 years my career has developed to a great level. I feel the two roles I hold complement each other, giving me sound knowledge of educational and clinical standards expected of potential graduates.
I also found that students have far more respect and are more engaging because you are working on the coalface. I share examples from my own experience of the different clinical situations I have encountered. I praise good performance and identify areas that require further development in a non-threatening way to aid their development. In short, I try to INSPIRE the students.
I have served on a number of professional boards and committees over the past 18 years. Currently I am an education associate with the General Dental Council inspecting dental training courses, a role I have held since 2006. I have also been working with Dental Defence Union since 2014, which has given me a greater insight of the excellent work of our indemnity providers in ensuring members are supported throughout their careers.
Undergraduate training provides the basic skills required to gain qualification. Through experience and continuing professional development, one develops and enhances one's skills.
Dentistry is a career that involves lifelong learning. The first stage of the journey is to identify needs, define goals and have a basic route towards a successful career in dentistry, which will lead to personal satisfaction and great opportunities.
Here are a few simple steps to help you with this journey in the world of dentistry.
1: Have a professional development plan (PDP). A PDP is defined as 'a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own learning, performance and/or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational and career development'. A PDP will not only will help you gain confidence but will also help enhance your skills.
- What would you like to achieve in the next five years, where do you see yourself in five years, where are you heading, how do you get there?
- Do not set yourself unrealistic targets. Developing and enhancing a professional career takes time.
- Set goals you wish to achieve, within a certain timeframe; often the people who don't achieve their goals fail to keep focused or lose motivation.
- Remember each goal in life is achievable, so never give up.
2: Work within your scope of practice and competency. If you feel treatment is beyond your competency, liaise with experienced colleagues to guide you through the treatment. This will help you gain confidence and develop your skills.
3: Join your professional associations. Some of the benefits are:
- an association supports members in all matters relative to their chosen profession, ranging from education, clinical techniques, employment and personal development
- forums for advice and discussion on the website.
- networking opportunities with fellow professional/colleagues.
4: Patient safety is paramount. As a registrant of the GDC one has to meet certain standards. The GDC expects professionals to:
- uphold and follow the required standards and any additional guidance (the standards guidance is a code of behaviour that registrants are required to abide by in order to safeguard the patient)
- maintain enhanced continuing professional development, as it is vital to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date.
5: Work within a team environment and communicate.
- Look through your patient list and plan how you wish to work through the day.
- Do not struggle, and ask for help if required.
- Have aide memoires (crib sheets) to help with treatment protocols e.g. History taking, treatment planning etc.
- Utilise the skills of your dental nurse, an experienced dental nurse will literally hold your hand and guide you through the day.
Believe in your ability, which will lead to success through this journey.
Bal qualified from Barts and the London in 1992 and has been a part-time member of the teaching staff since 2001, where she holds the post of deputy principal dental hygiene and therapy tutor. Bal also works in general dental practice. She is a past president of the British Association of Dental Therapists, and was recipient of the Dental Therapist of the Year award in 2006.
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