Dental nurse, Dr Debbie Reed FCGDent, is Chair of the inaugural board of the College’s Faculty of Dental Nursing and Orthodontic Therapy and a Reader and Director of Advanced and Specialist Healthcare in Global and Lifelong Learning at the University of Kent. In this blog, Debbie reflects on the results of her recent research into dental nurse retention in the UK.
There are currently over 61,6631 dental nurses (DNs) on the General Dental Council (GDC) register, making dental nurses the largest occupational group of dental registrants. However, in recent years there has been a perceived drop in the numbers of dental nurses, to the extent that this has been termed a ‘recruitment crisis’. In my capacity as Reader (associate professor) in Advanced and Specialist Healthcare, I conducted the Dental Nurse Retention Survey, in February – March 20232, which aimed to explore the current state of the registered Dental Nurse workforce within the United Kingdom (UK).
The main conclusions of the subsequent report3 provide valuable insights into the reasons dental nurses want to remain in the profession, as well as some of the factors that may lead them to consider leaving.
There are three top factors that encouraged 50% of dental nurse respondents to remain registered with the GDC and working within the dental sector. These were, in order:
- Meaning and growth, focusing on reasons associated with job satisfaction, including meaningful work, career structure and opportunities for professional progression and growth.
- Extrinsic rewards, including contracts of employment, financial remuneration and pay, as well as additional rewards and incentives provided by employers.
- Workplace culture and environment, which was defined as a set of values, beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions common to those working together, which influences behaviours and interactions amongst colleagues within the dental team. Workplace environment also means the setting and physical conditions, such as the building structure, equipment, and material, in addition to the culture.
This indicates the potential importance to dental nurses, of having career pathway routes, such as the College of General Dentistry’s Career Pathway for Dental Nurse and Orthodontic Therapists (OTs)4. CGDent’s Career Pathway offers a progressive and flexible structure through which dental nurses can be enabled in equality of opportunity for career development and progression, alongside a route-map for the achievements of DNs and OTs to be recognised within a prestigious multi-professional, sector wide, recognition framework. CGDent’s progressive career framework, is an accessible and achievable route to job satisfaction and professional longevity.
Uniquely, CGDent provides a transparent, progressive series of gateways that encourages DNs and OTs to maximise their development opportunities, with means to track their development throughout their career progression. The gateways offer much-needed commonality of approach to career progression across all registered dental professions, with parity of occupational esteem, unparalleled elsewhere in dentistry, nationally or internationally.
Instinctively, the CGDent Career Pathway, launched in 2022, may go some way to responding to some of the reasons dental nurses not only become uncertain about remaining but the reasons that dental nurses go on to declare an intention to leave.
The Survey Report detailed, with regards to the other 50% of respondents, that 34% who declared having become ‘uncertain about remaining in dental nursing’. The top three reasons for this, in order, were:
- First – Dissatisfaction with pay.
- Joint second – Employers not valuing, recognising, or showing appreciation for the dental nurses’ contribution or no longer enjoying working as dental nurse.
- Joint third – Dental nurses not getting a sense of meaning and reward from their role or feeling that they were unable to progress in their career.
The remaining 16% of dental nurse respondents declared ‘an intention to leave dental nursing’. Surprisingly, when requested to be specific, pay was not amongst the top three reasons why dental nurses were making the decision to leave, although it did feature. The three top reasons, in order, why dental nurses intended to leave dental nursing were:
- Employers not valuing, recognising or showing appreciation for their contribution.
- Feeling they were unable to progress in their careers.
- No longer enjoying working as a dental nurse.
Reassuringly, the study also revealed that even within the group who were ‘intending to leave’, that 46% could be tempted by employers, with suitable progression routes, offers, rewards and incentives, to remain or return to dental nursing. So, it is not too late for employers, there are steps that can be taken to retain this group of dental nurses, and the report offers ideas to be used as a starting point for such discussions and negotiations. The Dental Nurse UK Retention Survey 2023 Report offers hope in the form of possibilities which might be explored to retain or re-engage that group and tempt them to consider re-registering to work in the dental sector.
The Dental Nurse Retention Survey UK Report published the results in Autumn 2023: Reed, D.P. (2023) The Dental Nurse UK Retention Survey 2023: An Internet Mediated Survey Of Members Of The British Association of Dental Nurses And Wider Dental Nurse Workforce Regarding What Encourages Them To Remain Within The Dental Sector.
Unsurprisingly, it has had over 1,840 reads so far. For those who wish to access the survey results, the report is freely available on ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/374919034_Dental_Nurse_UK_Retention_Survey_2023
Over the course of the year, look out for the associated blogs (such as the GDC January 2024 Blog5), papers, journal articles and speaker events, including part of the CDO Lounge events in March 2024 at BDIA Showcase in Excel London, which will provide further detailed analysis of the survey results.
- General Dental Council (GDC) (2024a)GDC Registration Reports January 2024. Available online: https://www.gdc-uk.org/docs/default-source/registration-reports/registration-report—january-2024.pdf?sfvrsn=2fc3066f_3
- British Dental Nurse Association (BADN) 2023) DN Recruitment and Retention Survey. Available online via: https://www.badn.org.uk/NewPublic/News/Dental-Nurse-Recruitment-and-Retention-Survey.aspx
- Reed, D.P. (2023) The Dental Nurse UK Retention Survey 2023: An Internet Mediated Survey Of Members Of The British Association of Dental Nurses And Wider Dental Nurse Workforce Regarding What Encourages Them To Remain Within The Dental Sector. Available online via ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/374919034_Dental_Nurse_UK_Retention_Survey_2023
- College of General Dentistry (CGDent) (2022) Career Pathways. Available online: https://cgdent.uk/career-pathways/
- General Dental Council (2024b) Blog 4 January 2024: What encourages dental nurses to remain within the dental sector? Available online: https://www.gdc-uk.org/news-blogs/blog/detail/blogs/2024/01/04/what-encourages-dental-nurses-to-remain-within-the-dental-sector