There are more dental graduates in the UK than ever before and, with the uncertainty in the job market, competition is fierce. Today’s young dentist is also qualifying with less clinical experience than his or her predecessor; a more litigious environment and slashed NHS funding are extra challenges, too. However, it is still possible to build a successful career in the current environment. These are my top five tips to surviving – and excelling – as a young dentist.#
1) Have confidence in yourself – and confidence to ask for help
You’ve qualified and are now free to practise dentistry without having someone peering over your shoulder – great! But, it can also be a daunting thought that you must now make decisions for yourself. Rest assured, your confidence will slowly develop – you will generally do more work in the first few weeks of practice than you ever did at dental school!
Always remember to keep the patient’s best interests at heart. Never be afraid to ask for second opinions or discuss cases with colleagues – we’ve all been there. When help is available, attempt different treatments but remember, don’t be tempted to dive in without the help of an experienced clinician and be mindful of the extent of your competence, too, before practising new skills alone.
2) Fine tune record-keeping and communication skills
With the time constraints of a busy NHS practice, it is easy to pick up bad habits when it comes to record keeping. But, time spent on detailed records may save you hours of stress (and, possibly, a legal case). During the appointment, dedicate time to accurately completing the patient’s records. Actively listen to what your patients are saying, paying attention to tone and inflection as well as to their body language. Take time to try to understand their expectations; these may need modifying if unrealistic. Treatment decisions should be made together after a thorough and balanced discussion. If you don’t have a fantastic memory, jot down some personal details on the patient’s record to jog your memory. Remember, your patient is an individual, not a set of teeth looking for a treatment plan!
3) Invest in loupes with illumination
There are ergonomic and optical benefits to wearing loupes – and the earlier the better as there is a steep learning curve. Leggat, Kedjarune and Smith (2007) found that approximately 53-82% of dental professionals suffer musculoskeletal complaints such as neck and back muscle pain. Often, poor posture is a contributing factor and loupes enable a clinician to work in a healthier, more ergonomic position. If you can, add a light source to provide illumination, this will improve your vision and reduce eye strain.
4) Take plenty of clinical photos
Photographs can be a valuable part of your patient record and are useful for patient education and liaison with the dental team too. Build up a portfolio of clinical cases – helpful when applying for associate jobs. Importantly, having photographs of your work allows you to reflect, audit and continually improve.
5) Find a mentor
Seek a mentor – a senior clinician whose values and approach matches your own and who can be a trusted advisor and role model. Throughout dental training and beyond, inspirational dental professionals will prove an invaluable source of knowledge that will help you choose the most efficient route to achieve your ambitions.
Reena qualified from Barts and The London. She is currently completing part-time specialty training in periodontology at Guy’s as well as working in general practice.