One DDU member talks us through the shock and stress of receiving their first complaint, as well as how we were able to support them through it.

The author is a recently qualified DDU member. Some details have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the individuals involved.

Last year I was unfortunate enough to receive a GDC complaint. Having only qualified a few months before, the complaint was a huge shock for me and nearly led me to terminating my career.

I had been booked a patient for a check up, who upon arrival was clearly unhappy with my age (or lack thereof). I reassured her that I was fully qualified and continued the check-up, and after additional investigations, a treatment plan was created.

The patient required a number of extractions, root canal treatments, fillings and periodontal therapy. I went through every diagnosis with her to educate her, explaining what it meant, the prognosis and the treatment options available. I outlined the importance of good oral hygiene and covered how to improve hers.

At this point the patient became defensive and explained that I had no right to tell her how to brush her teeth or that she was not brushing well enough. I tried to calm her down and explained I was only offering my advice and professional opinion. Unfortunately, the situation escalated with her again questioning my qualifications, my age and experience. She started swearing at me, telling me I was just a girl.

By the end of the check-up, it was agreed that there was a loss of trust and a poor relationship between us. I gave her her treatment plan and recommended she sees another dentist who may be better suited to her needs. My boss at this point intervened and tried to diffuse the situation. He explained to the patient that due to her conduct we as a practice would refuse to see her and she would be better suited somewhere else.

While I had not actually performed any treatment or touched the patient, she filed a complaint to the GDC about my conduct a few days before Christmas. She stated that I was being racist, against her religion and treated her differently due to her exemption. Unfortunately, the patient went straight to the GDC, meaning the practice didn't have the chance to try and resolve it locally first. Had she done this, we could have stopped it from escalating so quickly, saving me so much stress and anxiety. I would have liked to have been given the opportunity to explain that we share the same religion and that 80% of the patients I was treating were exempt.

Unfortunately, the patient went straight to the GDC, meaning the practice didn't have the chance to try and resolve it locally first.

Receiving a complaint in your foundation training year can be incredibly distressing. You are at a point in your career where you are already questioning your capabilities, learning new things every day, and trying to change from being a safe beginner to an independent practitioner.

At the start of your foundation training, your confidence is low, as you rely on the guidance of your educational supervisor to help you blossom over the year. Receiving a complaint like this so early on completely knocked the little confidence that I had. I questioned my own capabilities, whether I had potentially done something wrong during this check-up, and even whether I deserved to graduate.

I immediately called DDU for advice, especially concerned with the fact that the Christmas holidays were fast approaching. Thankfully the DDU was always able to answer my phone calls or questions in a timely manner, regardless of the holiday status. The DDU really held my hand throughout the whole process, advising me on what to do, reassuring me, and helping me draft replies to the GDC and also to Health Education England. Given I was in the middle of my foundation year, I had to not only talk to the GDC about my conduct, but also Health Education England, adding to the workload for the DDU and also to my stress.

My family and educational supervisor were of great emotional support, helping me through one of the toughest periods of my life. I continued working during the investigation, eager to not allow this to stop me from finishing my foundation training year. If it wasn't for the constructive guidance that DDU gave me, I would have been incredibly lost. I was embarrassed to tell anyone about the complaint and therefore relied heavily on the DDU and my family for support. They never let me down, and even pushed me to take this complaint as a learning experience and use it to improve my dentistry as opposed to hindering me.

Eventually the case was closed by the GDC a few months later with no repercussions. I finished my foundation training year, fulfilling all my requirements and secured a job as an associate a few months later.

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The whole experience with the GDC has been one that will remain with me forever. It was a time of great stress and anxiety, however I have used this experience to improve me as a clinician. I learnt the value of writing contemporaneous notes (which in this case helped me hugely), communication, and accepting your limits. Not every patient is going to like you and instead of trying to convince them that you are worthy of their time, you must accept when things will not work out and be able to refer a patient.

Thankfully I had not performed any clinical procedures on the patient but I know that had I, my work would have been scrutinized. I make sure I am completely satisfied with my work before the end of every appointment. I have learned that it can be the patients we overlook who become the most dissatisfied.

I also have gained confidence in knowing that in this particular case I had done nothing wrong.

We as professionals need to try and build good working relationships with patients, consistently provide treatment that we are proud of, accepting our limits both as people and clinically, and by having excellent support. I give my deepest gratitude to DDU for their help. They helped in a great time of need and as a result, I would never consider anyone else for my indemnity.

This page was correct at publication on 15/04/2020. 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.