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A Bit on the Side - Working Whilst Studying

Post date: 22/08/2017 | Time to read article: 4 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 14/11/2018


“Don’t go and blow all of your money during your first week” was perhaps the best piece of advice in my early university career. 

Naturally I took absolutely no notice whatsoever and in the days before banks would courier wheelbarrows full of cash over to halls of residence, in return for a pound of flesh, the end of my first term was lived most frugally.

A realisation of how much money was actually available to live on soon curtailed mid-week entertainment, unnecessary late night take-aways on the way home, any food not in a tin, and all other methods of transport accept two legs. Obviously and quite justifiably the purchase of the recommended textbooks was impossible.

Many students hit the ground running and soon discover that the debt starts to mount.  For some this may simply result in having to qualify with a debt equivalent to the mortgage of a starter house but for others the need to apply the brakes and self discipline becomes vital.  Many dental students take on part-time jobs, either during term time, vacations or even all year round.  The amount of free time available may vary depending upon which year the student is in and at which dental school they study.  Obviously there has to be a balance in student’s life between the rigours of studying dentistry, taking on a job but also enjoying student life.  The speed at which the years pass is alarming as those that have just started the fourth year will realise when their friends on three years courses have now disappeared off in to the big wide world.  The time at university is an exceptional one and should be a time which you can look back on as being an enjoyable and formative period of life.

What then are the benefits of working part-time?  Is it purely financial, or are there other benefits to be gained?  Discussions with young colleagues may indicate a better understanding of “life skills” if there has been experience of previous employment.  Of course such a comment is a generalisation, however if would appear that those students who have experience of working can adapt more readily to certain aspects of their first employment following qualification and an examination of business experience can reveal the benefits.

Any employed position carries with it responsibility.  Whether a barman, a lorry driver, pool attendant or check-out assistant the same principles will apply.

Dental authorities describe what they consider the undergraduate dental education should be.  The widely accepted approach is that during University, the dental student should “acquire a wide range of skills including research, investigative, analytical, problem solving, planning, communication, presentation and team skills, use contemporary methods of electronic communication and information management.    Using this as a template there is an argument that there are generic skills that would apply to any employment.  When practice owners are looking to recruit young colleagues, communication skills are a most substantive part of the overall skill base for the general dental practitioner.  Employment in many roles involves the development of such skills as well as many others.  

There is no doubt that the early years in practise can be extremely hard work as there is a huge amount to learn during this time.  Many graduates will qualify with limited or no experience of the work environment and without the skills base of those experienced in previous employment.  It may well be that those with such experience will find the transition easier as they will understand how it is to work with others to communicate with people. Handling money and discussing costs of treatment often present a problem for young graduates and experience of this before graduation can be very helpful.

Obviously employment can assist with self control in terms of finances so that a career is not started with a potentially crippling debt. The management of personal finances is an art in itself and the early such skills are obtained then so much the better.

There may be various jobs offered which are done so on a “cash in hand” basis.  Whilst some individuals may be tempted to take on such employment or be pushed towards this by an employer: a word of warning.  Should a Police caution or conviction be obtained then the Dental Boards may well be informed and the application to register upon qualification will be compromised.  Please be aware that in comparison to other non-professional fellow students it is not a level playing field as you have a lot more to lose in comparison.  Registration is paramount to enable you to work as a dentist and to risk ones registration by agreeing to illegal practises would surely be foolish. 

Those who do work during their student years may benefit from what is often called “the university of life” where the skills described above can give them a head start in their professional career.  However you must ensure that any activity that you are engaged in will not question your future fitness to practise as a result of a caution or conviction. 

The primary objective of the five years at university is obviously to obtain a dental degree and that objective should not be compromised by efforts to reduce debt.  There is a balance to be had and when considering the level of debt one can qualify with.  Consideration should be given to a life time’s earning which should put such amounts in perspective, however to commence a career with debilitating debts can have be most demoralising. It can also lead to an individual pushing themselves too hard in the early years, which can result in a loss of enthusiasm for the role and pressure to achieve unrealistic targets / high turnover. The latter can bring into play a whole host of issues and as described a measured balance has to be preferable.

Could this be more easily achieved through developing knowledge and skills through part time employment whilst an undergraduate?

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