Have you ever considered broadening your horizons? Two of the DDU's own advisers explore and explain the benefits of a varied portfolio career.

What's your professional background?

Simon Kidd: I am primarily an associate general dental practitioner working in the west of Scotland, but I am also a vocational trainer (the Scottish equivalent of an educational supervisor). My clinical focus is on the provision of high quality restorative dentistry, with a particular interest in anxiety management techniques such as IV sedation.

In more recent years I have expanded my portfolio of non-clinical skills by way of involvement in dental politics and dento-legal work. I now work part-time for the DDU as a dental telephone adviser (DTA).

Jo-Anne Taylor: I have enjoyed a very diverse professional life, starting out as a senior house officer in maxilla-facial surgery, then practicing as a community dentist and later providing both NHS and private general dental services both in the UK and Western Australia.

For over ten years I taught undergraduate dental care professionals, and during that time became very interested in supporting students to develop clinical skills and professionalism and in encouraging and supporting DCP's to embrace their full scope of practice to deliver safe and effective care.

What led you to join the DDU?

SK: I've been a member since I was a student and have always received first-class advice and support from the DDU. I must confess that my decision to become a member was rather superficial in that the DDU had offered the best 'freebies' and had been the most supportive of student events!

I took an interest in dento-legal work because I've always had a morbid curiosity about how dentists end up in trouble, but after a spell of difficult cases of my own, I had looked to improve my practice by improving my communication with patients.

The DDU's 'Cautionary Tales' publication had always been a source of great interest and definitely influenced the care I've provided in recent years. This curiosity, combined with a genuine desire to help the profession look after its own, made dento-legal work very appealing to me.

By chance, around the time I was considering how to diversify my career, I was seated beside a DDU adviser at an LDC dinner and she gave me some fantastic insight into what dento-legal work involved. On her recommendation, I undertook a Master's degree in Healthcare Law and Ethics through the University of Dundee. Towards the end of my studies I got in touch with John Makin, head of the DDU, who then gave me some very helpful career advice. A year later I was offered the chance to apply for a DTA job at the DDU and am pleased to say I was successful.

JT: Over the years I have become increasingly interested in patient-clinician communication, risk management and in how dental teams are regulated. This seemed to naturally align with dental law and ethics and led to me exploring a role with the DDU.

I am currently working part time for the DDU which I find immensely interesting and rewarding. I began as a dental telephone adviser (DTA) providing telephone advice on issues ranging from consent and confidentiality, disclosure, safeguarding, adverse incidents and complaints. I have enjoyed speaking to all members of the dental team.

More recently I took up a role as dento-legal adviser, which enables me to provide additional assistance with matters that might develop into more formal complaints, claims or regulatory investigations.

It is the variety that has kept my working life interesting and I would encourage all dental professionals to pursue whatever aspect of dentistry keeps them engaged.

What does a dental telephone adviser (DTA) do?

SK: DTAs work within the DDU's advisory team and are registered dentists who have the experience and knowledge to be able to give dento-legal advice over the phone to members about whatever concerns they might have. I think this is particularly valued by dental professionals seeking advice, as we've got hands-on experience of the same issues they're facing.

DTAs also help with the writing and reviewing of the DDU guides and journals. These cover a vast array of subjects and members can access these through the website or DDU App. One of my many tasks is to ensure that our guides are relevant to dental professionals in all regions of the UK, with a particular responsibility for ensuring our advice is as relevant to dentists in Scotland as it is in the rest of the UK. The DDU has advisers based in all corners of the UK and we all work together to make sure members are universally catered for.

How can a DTA/DLA help members?

SK: When I first started as a DTA I was surprised to discover the wide range of reasons why members would call into the advice line. As a member myself, it was reassuring to discover that colleagues could genuinely call for advice as many times as they liked without fear of it affecting their subscription rate.

For example, I regularly receive calls from members who just want to run something by an adviser in order to keep themselves right. A lot of these calls are around similar themes, such as members seeking general advice on record keeping or members seeking to take advantage of the DDU's free contract checking service.

However, sometimes we get very specific requests for advice. For example, I've recently had a query relating to the use of service animals in the dental surgery or, in another case, a member asked about the dento-legal issues that might arise from a patient's refusal to wear a face covering in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such queries make the job incredibly interesting and the team go to great lengths to give as full and accurate a response as possible.

When members require more in-depth advice or assistance from a dento-legal adviser (DLA), for example in responding to a complaint, the DTA will put the member on the appropriate path to ensure a swift response.

JT: Before I worked for the DDU I hadn't fully appreciated how accessible and beneficial it can be to seek support and advice at the earliest stage of any issues that might arise. It has been fantastic to realise that members can call the confidential telephone helpline without fear of reprisal and will be able to discuss their concerns in confidence with colleagues who are both clinicians themselves and experienced in dento-legal matters.

Nothing is too trivial and often it can be hugely reassuring to confirm that your actions are appropriate or to simply talk through the relative risks of various approaches. The listening ear and objective advice of a colleague removed from the situation can be incredibly helpful and reassuring and often can put things into perspective. The team at the DDU have an enormous wealth of experience and there is always somebody available who will no doubt be able to help.

The DDU also offer a contract checking service for both associate dentists and self-employed hygienists and therapists. Obtaining advice before you sign any agreement can help you establish good professional working relationships from the outset and reduce the risk of problems further down the line.

The DDU also offer a great selection of on line CPD courses, interesting dento-legal case studies, pod casts and wellbeing support which can be enormously helpful. We can also offer support to students and foundation scheme members by providing interactive workshops and guest lectures.

Members can call the confidential telephone helpline without fear of reprisal and will be able to discuss their concerns in confidence with colleagues who are clinicians themselves and experienced in dento-legal matters.

What are the benefits of a portfolio career?

SK: The main benefit I have found is that the skills I developed in my non-clinical roles have really helped in the clinical aspects of my job. I have become better at communicating with patients and my knowledge of professional guidance has expanded exponentially.

I would also say that dento-legal work isn't confined to working for indemnity providers. Many clinicians diversify into working as an expert witness or by taking on roles in education and mentoring. In my experience it is the variety that has kept my working life interesting and I would encourage all dental professionals to pursue whatever aspect of dentistry keeps them engaged.

JT: I would encourage and recommend a portfolio career to anyone who wants to expand their horizon and enjoys interacting with professional colleagues as well as caring for patients. Although it can be challenging to study whilst working in clinical practice it can also be extremely rewarding.

Over the years I completed a master's degree in dental public health, and post graduate certificates in medical education and medical aesthetics. As a result, I have a wide network of professional colleagues and have been fortunate to work in a very varied range of educational and regulatory roles alongside my clinical practice. This has kept me interested and up to date as well as providing a really broad oversight of the issues and challenges of contemporary professional practice.

For me it has been both personally fulfilling and professionally satisfying and hopefully has equipped me to support DDU members in an authentic, well informed and human way.

This page was correct at publication on 14/05/2021. 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.