Our experience of the Certified Membership Scheme

Phill Brown FCGDent is a Facilitator on the College’s Certified Membership Scheme and dental therapist Poppy Dunton, Associate Member, is enrolled on the programme and supporting its development. In a recent conversation with Roshni Karia MCGDent, they shared their experiences of the scheme.

Roshni Karia: Thank you both for talking with me today. Can you briefly tell me about your roles in dentistry?

Phill Brown: Hi Roshni, I have a keen interest in primary dental care and have been a General Dental Practitioner for 17 years. Within that time I have worked in several practices as an associate dentist and was also fortunate enough to own a large NHS practice in the North West. My role in Dental Education began in 2017 where I have developed a career in Clinical Academia at the University of Liverpool School of Dentistry.

Poppy Dunton: I accidentally fell into dentistry, when a graphic design work experience placement fell through, I began training as a dental nurse, left for university to train in dental therapy and hygiene. I graduated in 2011, and from there have been fortunate enough to be able to complete my full scope of practice in a busy NHS surgery for over eight years; throughout that time I was privileged enough to be offered a business management position, and have since set up and manage a squat practice which is a private facility providing a multidisciplinary team. I currently serve as a Dental Hygiene Therapist focused on Periodontal care.

RK: Speaking as a Facilitator and a member on the Certified Membership Scheme, how does the Professional Framework support you to plan your development?

PB: As a Facilitator, the Framework allows me to structure and focus sessions with colleagues like Poppy who are on the Certified Membership Scheme. Each career stage within the framework has clear and concise examples of how each capability maps to their current career development and so for me as a Facilitator I can easily help and support discussions when a candidate has identified further areas of development.

PD: The Framework allows me to consider my next choice of professional development by allowing me to discuss my personal goals with my Facilitator. These could be examples of postgraduate training or new qualifications or skills I wish to gain. Once discussed this then supports me to see how my skills or day-to-day work life will match with the current direction of my professional development. We can then plan the next six months of my education together.

RK: Poppy, what does Certified Membership mean for you personally?

PD: Ultimately Roshni, I feel it means I am working towards a career goal. I qualified in 2011 and there were minimal postgraduate courses offered compared to the options available to undergraduates in today’s climate. However I have spent a lot of money in the past on courses – which I have only discovered post-qualification do not hold university merit. Therefore, by joining the Certified Membership programme I am able to ensure, with the help of my Facilitator, that my future investments into postgraduate education are the correct ones in line with my advancing through the Career Pathway towards my goal of Fellowship of the College. In addition it allows me to keep focused and not waste time or money on education which may not fit the goal I have set myself.

RK: Why do you think the CMS is a good idea for those working in primary care dentistry, Phill?

PB: Quite simple really! We have no other scheme currently like this in the dental primary care sector. The College has been very inclusive in who can join its programme. You have access to a Facilitator who will provide support alongside a uniquely developed Professional Framework, which maps to your own development no matter what discipline you work in. With the support of the College, primary care colleagues can start to consider how to develop a career pathway in a primary care setting, gaining recognition at every stage of their career development.

RK: So Poppy, can you explain what’s involved for you as a member of the scheme?

PD: Well, every six months I meet online with my Facilitator Martin, he is lovely! The meetings are structured and generally can be around 2-3 hours in length. Yes I know…this may sound like a long period of time, mapping out and planning career progression is based on forming a professional relationship with your Facilitator. Martin took the time to learn about my career, and I his – how I reached the current status of my job role, my concerns, and my desires to achieve more in further education. During the meeting we will set SMART goals together.

Following this meeting I will complete a reflective journal which allows me to self criticise, peer review my own goals and reflect on what needs improvement. This is then sent into the College to ensure my program is being completed and I am being held accountable. Throughout the six month periods there are constant streams of support and online study programme webinars which is helpful and allows me to focus on particular areas for improvement.

RK: One of the benefits of taking part in the CMS is ongoing support from a Facilitator like you Phill. What’s involved in your role?

PB: As a Fellow of the College I am privileged enough to be able to support colleagues at earlier stages of their career by being a Facilitator of the CMS. My role is to engage with those on the scheme throughout their development at specific points during the programme. The role requires me to set time aside to discuss candidates’ personal development plans and reflective logs, and further encourage, through active discussion, areas of professional development that may be helpful to them.

RK: Online Study Modules are another component of the CMS. What are these, Poppy? Do you find them helpful and what sorts of things do you discuss with your Facilitator?

PD: Online study modules are Zoom meetings and teaching lessons, on topics such as Record Keeping, that I attend with other members on the Certified Membership programme. They allow us to focus on a learning outcome for the next six months in terms of making improvements in our own dental daily workflow. We learn from each other and then listen to peers’ reflections and experiences. During my Facilitator meetings with Martin, we discuss recent events and my clinical progress – such as experiences, challenges faced – and we have an open discussion regarding any of my concerns. Reviewing achievements and planning the next six months make up a fair amount of our time – allowing Martin to guide me in regards to particular courses which will benefit me the most or help me to reach my goal of Fellowship.

RK: I wanted to ask both of you about the reflective journal, which is another requirement of the scheme. Have you learnt anything that you think might have been missed without a journal?

PB: As Poppy suggests the journal is very helpful and is structured in a way to guide and map development of skills to the Professional Framework. There are a lot of skills that we all naturally develop over time and so having a clear space to record these achievements ensures you can identify any gaps within each capability. It is really easy to focus on just the skills you are naturally good at and so encouraging CMS candidates to journal throughout can avoid missing important areas for consideration in their PDP goals.

PD: I must admit Roshni, I am a big fan of daily journaling; I think it forces your mind to reflect on exactly where you are. Therefore at times, I cannot recall missing anything but the opposite has allowed me to explore options which I haven’t previously or disregard ideas that upon reflection may not have been suitable in working towards my goals. I’m a particular fan of the Agency Domain in the Professional Framework, which includes the Autonomy competency, the ability to be self directed and take ownership of the work. This encourages you to look at yourself via the power of self audit.

RK: The fourth element of the Certified Membership Scheme is the objective evidencing of your capability, so formal qualifications you’ve gained or courses you’ve completed. Poppy, do you think this sort of external validation is useful for your career and are you currently working towards anything?

PD: Absolutely, I am proud to be part of the College and am so excited for all fellow dental care professionals who are going to achieve recognition for their contribution to the dental world. In the future this may also aid patients in finding an experienced clinician. I am currently working towards gaining Fellowship of the College. I previously completed courses which unfortunately did not qualify for the correct number of credits – therefore I am restarting my journey from a Level 7 status.

RK: Well thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about the CMS and your experiences so far. I’d love to catch up with you again a little further down the line to find out how it has been going.

PD: Thank you for allowing me to be part of this discussion, I am very grateful for the invite.

PB: Many thanks Roshni.

For further information about Certified Membership, click the button below.

The Certified Membership Scheme is open to Associate Members, Full Members and Associate Fellows of the College, and in the first phase, specifically for dentists – we will be opening to other dental team roles soon.

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A dental therapist’s unexpected journey

Dental therapist and business operations manager, Poppy Dunton, reflects on her career in dentistry and how her mantra that “every day is a school day” has supported her development.

Never would I have expected to have the career that I did out of dentistry. I was a disgruntled 15-year-old being told my graphic design two-week work placement had pulled out. With everyone else having picked their placements, I was left with the unexpected choice of a dental practice. “A dental practice! You’ve got to be joking?” I initially thought. Yet, as I made cups of tea and filed blue forms, the hustle and bustle of the place felt surprisingly comfortable. To say I enjoyed it was an understatement.

As the two-week period ended, the principal dentist offered me a part-time after-school job – making tea and cleaning the old impression trays (pre-single use era), and earning £3.15 per hour. I jumped at the chance, feeling like I was made of money. Every day after school, I would walk and do my 4 pm – 6:30 pm shift. When a trial day at Northampton College for photography didn’t sit right with me, I informed the principal dentist that evening. My father was called in for a meeting, and that’s when the principal dentist said, “I’ll only give her a job here, Graham if she makes something of her life.” That evening became the catalyst for my passion in dentistry.

The evolution of my career is intricately tied to a commitment to education. I embarked on an evening college course, alongside my apprenticeship, to train to become a dental nurse. Tuesday evenings in Milton Keynes led to passing the NEBDN Certificate in Dental Nursing. Once I had this, I spent the following months learning as much as possible – four-handed dentistry, impression taking, and implant nursing. The practice grew, and another was bought over the road, giving me the chance to set up an oral hygiene program.

Following my return from Cardiff University, where I completed a diploma in Dental Hygiene and Therapy, I was privileged enough to be offered my job back in the practice where I started. The first week was a week to remember; I ran an hour late, fell down the stairs, and stuck two teeth together. I had the most patient mentors, and working in an NHS practice was fantastic, allowing me to complete my full scope of practice, including paediatrics. Was it hard? Yes. Did it teach me speed and resilience? Absolutely.

After graduating in 2012, there were limited postgraduate options. Notable pursuits included constantly up-skilling and working in a team supportive of therapists. Composite courses with GC in Belgium, Level 7 in Employment Law, and being promoted to operations manager of two NHS practices – eventually managing a team of 64 staff – led to me being offered a practice manager position four years into my career. This opened learning about people psychology, leadership, and planning team meetings alongside my clinical career.

I was privileged enough to then open a squat practice alongside my principal, with a business plan for two surgeries over two years which resulted in 10 surgeries being opened over five years, including a vaccination clinic.  Three CQC inspections later, and the role of CQC manager was also added to my repertoire. The most rewarding part of project managing the development of this new practice was recruiting a group of individual dental professionals and watching them grow into a wonderful team.

Upon completing a PGDip in Perio and PGDip in Aesthetic and Restorative Dentistry, I was introduced to the College of General Dentistry and was eager to explore the recognition I could gain as a dental therapist. Unfortunately, the course credits were not enough per course to contribute towards Fellowship. Thus, I joined the College’s Certified Membership Scheme (CMS) to gain guidance on how to continue advancing my career and choose the best postgraduate training to reflect my aspirations. As part of the Scheme, I have regular contact with a Facilitator who consistently ensures that my investment in courses leads me in the correct direction. Ongoing self-reflection allows me to constantly critique myself, and the leadership module fits well with my management of staff, completing practice meetings, and public speaking. Being part of the CMS has supported me to complete a Level 5 ILM in Leadership and Management, by enabling me to choose an appropriate course and help develop leadership qualities.

The College’s Professional Framework, which underpins the Certified Membership Scheme, maps 22 key capabilities, many of which have played a crucial role in my journey. Emphasising the value of postgraduate education, I would encourage new graduates to embrace opportunities for further learning and to constantly be self-critical of their work. Recording self-reflection, taking photographs, and analysing what went well in each case, shadowing peers, or approaching colleagues for their opinions are essential. Don’t fear failure; it’s what makes you better.

In my experience, this profession can be challenging and, at times, isolating. There are days when running late, neglecting notes, skipping meals, and even necessities like restroom breaks become the norm. The toll on one’s body—back pain, eye strain, and hand fatigue—can be significant. Looking after your long-term career is vital. Record-keeping has been one of the largest changes I’ve seen, starting in my early career with very short notes. Now, ensuring my conversations with patients are highlights in notes, and my nurses help and scribe during appointments. This has proved invaluable when a complaint arises. Protecting yourself is vital.

The most unexpected rewards in my dental therapy role often come during these challenging moments. Patient gratitude and the joy of assisting anxious individuals through treatment illuminate the darker days.

This career has allowed me ongoing dedication to continuous learning, reflecting on my mentor’s ethos of “everyday is a school day”. My commitment to education and mentorship is rooted in a desire to guide new professionals in navigating complexities while maintaining their well-being. In 2023, I was privileged to join the Board of the Faculty of Dental Hygiene & Dental Therapy for the College and long to continue my career in teaching.

Recently I have relocated due to family illness, and this marks the end of a significant chapter in my career, prompting reflection on the unconventional path that led me to the field of dentistry, the intricacies of managing a bustling practice, combined with the personal growth and educational pursuits that defined my journey. In conclusion alongside all new graduates, I continue to embrace new challenges and aspirations, remaining steadfast in my commitment to contributing positively to the ever-evolving world of dental therapy.

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Making the move into private practice

Dr Pouya Zohrabpour, GDP and co-creator of the Two Dentists YouTube Channel, describes his journey towards becoming a fully private associate dentist, and the support he has received from the College’s Certified Membership Scheme.

Many young dentists struggle with imposter syndrome, often hesitant to engage in private dental practice or transition to a fully private setting. I graduated in 2020 and have recently embarked on the journey to become a fully private associate dentist. The experiences I’ve gathered over the past few years have been instrumental in easing this transition, helping me overcome imposter syndrome, and instilling confidence in the quality of dental care I provide.

Shortly after graduating, my colleague and friend, Dr. Ali Gowie, and I made the decision to launch a YouTube channel named “Two Dentists.” This initiative was born out of our shared frustration during the lockdown, as we grew tired of lengthy hour-long webinars. Our mission was simple: to create informative, polished, and easily digestible educational videos within the field of dentistry. We aimed to make these videos accessible to both dental newcomers and students.

Initially, our content focused on the intricacies of the new patient examination process, quickly gaining popularity on our channel. We covered a range of topics, from guiding dental students through their first patient interactions to providing insights on dental history collection, conducting comprehensive dental examinations, mastering all the essential diagnoses, utilizing radiology effectively, and excelling in treatment planning.

As time progressed, our content portfolio expanded to include diverse video series, such as our comprehensive exploration of dental photography and Loupes, which resonated strongly with our audience. Running our YouTube channel has opened doors for valuable collaborations with fellow dental professionals, nurturing our ongoing journey of learning and personal development. The channel has provided me with constant motivation to seek further knowledge, which I can then share through our videos.

During my foundation training year, I faced a pivotal decision regarding whether to pursue Dental Core Training (DCT). This choice weighed heavily on my mind as I sought advice from friends and colleagues. However, the diversity of opinions and my own uncertainty about the ideal career path left me in a state of indecision. Ultimately, I chose the associate route to focus on improving my general dentistry skills.

I’m certain that many others have found themselves in a similar situation, which is precisely where the new CGDent Certified Membership Scheme and Career Pathways can make a significant difference. As a young dentist, having a clearly defined career pathway, carefully mapped out by a professional body, offers me a sense of assurance that I’m on the right trajectory to expand my knowledge and evolve into a more proficient practitioner. Knowing that my progress will be acknowledged by the College and that I can work my way towards becoming an accomplished practitioner is incredibly motivating.

The Career Pathway provides a structured ladder to guide one’s professional growth, with clear steps leading to the achievement of the “accomplished practitioner” status. Currently classified as a “capable practitioner” “within the program, I am actively working towards the next milestone of becoming an “experienced practitioner”. One of the requirements for this advancement is completing a postgraduate diploma. To meet this requirement, I have enrolled in a PGDip program in Aesthetic & Restorative Dentistry offered by the Advanced Centre of Excellence (ACE). This further education has significantly boosted my confidence in treating a diverse range of patients, particularly in the private dental sector.

The Career Pathway is underpinned by the College’s Professional Framework, which delineates five domains encompassing 22 capabilities expected of dental professionals. My discussions with my assigned Facilitator while navigating these domains have been enlightening. They have encouraged me to pursue self-development not only in technical skills but also in the soft skills integral to dentistry. For instance, I’ve focused on honing my technical knowledge through courses in my PGDip program and ensuring I apply this knowledge in practice. Emphasizing the reflective domain, especially behaviours and well-being capabilities, has motivated me to foster a friendly, supportive, and collaborative environment among my colleagues at the dental practice. I firmly believe that without the framework and pathway in place, many of these actions may not have occurred or could have been delayed. The YouTube channel, Career Pathway, and Professional Framework have all played pivotal roles in shaping my career, enabling me to evolve and find fulfilment in dentistry.

As I near completion of my PGDip, I’m keen to identify the dental procedures that resonate with me most and potentially niche down in those treatments. To me, a successful dental career entails working in a capacity that allows you to practice the dentistry you enjoy, on a schedule that suits your preferences. This journey is neither swift nor easy; it demands patience and thoughtful planning. However, with the right guidance and strategy in place, it can become a more seamless and rewarding experience.

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From dental nursing to senior academic in dentistry: a personal career journey

Dr Louise Belfield AssocFCGDent is the College Council‘s Dental Nursing & Orthodontic Therapy Representative and Chair of the College’s Research Advisory Panel. The first dental nurse in the UK to achieve a PhD, here she reflects on the key moments, influences and lessons from her career to date.

My career in dentistry started at the age of 17 with an apprenticeship in Dental Technology. I worked as a trainee Dental Technician for 18 months and developed skills in crown and bridge work. During this time, I wondered with increasing frequency about the patients we were making prostheses for and decided to apply for a patient-facing role as a Dental Nurse. I trained in a small mixed NHS and private practice, and in 2003 gained my National Examining Board for Dental Nurses (NEBDN) Certificate in Dental Nursing. I was fortunate to work with a supportive team, and I was proactively included in continuing professional development (CPD) activities. The critical CPD event that changed the trajectory of my career in dentistry was a session exploring the links between periodontal diseases and systemic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and how the oral microbiome might connect them. This sparked my curiosity and drive to find answers. What might this mean for our patients? What might we be able to advise if we knew more about it? The only path forward that I could see was to embark on scientific training at university.

The decision to leave my practice and enrol on a university degree was a difficult one because I was very happy where I was, and I enjoyed Dental Nursing. As I had gone straight into apprenticeship after leaving school, I chose a BSc in Human Biosciences university course which included a “Year Zero” to cover the prerequisite scientific knowledge in lieu of traditional A-levels. Throughout the university course I continued practising as a dental nurse, working as bank staff for a local hospital trust. This provided invaluable experience and kept me clinically active in the profession. I worked across a range of settings, including domiciliary care, school visits, emergency clinics, dental access centres, special care dentistry, and even on a mobile dental surgery van. I also worked at an emergency out-of-hours weekend service, and in a private practice which I fitted in around my lectures.

It became apparent to me through the course of my studies that it was the immune system that was the pivotal link between periodontal and systemic diseases, and in the final year of my degree course I focused my studies on the periodontal pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis, and how it interacts with immune cells. This formed the basis of my further studies leading to a PhD, investigating how these immune cells behave in response to P. gingivalis when they are involved with oral cancer or chronic inflammation. As is often the case at the end of a PhD, there were many new questions formulating and I knew I wanted to continue to investigate these relationships further to answer some of these questions.

Career in dental research and education

At the end of my doctoral studies, an academic position became available and I was appointed as a Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences in 2013. This has enabled me to explore both the scientific and educational facets required in an academic career, and I have been able to establish research in both of these areas. My scientific research focuses on host-pathogen interactions, and I have been fortunate to work on multiple projects, including development of three-dimensional oral mucosa models, association of subgingival lipid A profiles with periodontal disease status,1,2 and in 2019 I received the Colgate Robin Davies Dental Care Professional Research Award from the Oral and Dental Research Trust (ODRT), for a project investigating modulation of osteoclast differentiation and activity by endotoxin tolerance. This Dental Care Professional (DCP) specific award was instrumental in developing an independent research career and I remain grateful to the ODRT for the opportunity.

Subsequently, working together with two colleagues at the University of Plymouth, we established the Oral Microbiome Research Group, where we run clinical and translational research investigating links between human health and disease, and oral bacteria. Two current clinical studies link the oral microbiome with pre-eclampsia, and formation of cerebral abscesses.3 Our research also explores how modifying the oral microbiome can be detrimental to maintaining oral and physiological health mechanisms; a study using chlorhexidine mouthwash to disrupt the normal microbiome found that a decreased diversity of species was associated with a decreased salivary pH buffering capacity, increased lactate and glucose levels, and reduced availability of nitrate and nitrite, with an associated increase in systolic blood pressure.4

Alongside my scientific research, I have also been able to develop scholarly activity, with a focus on inter- and intra-professional education, particularly relating to assessments and standard setting in multi-cohort programmes.5,6 Having come into higher education via a non-standard route, an area I have been particularly keen to invest in is access and participation, and a significant part of my academic role has been to develop a Foundation (Year Zero) entry pathway for the BSc Dental Therapy and Hygiene programme at Peninsula, with the specific focus on Dental Nurses, who make up the majority of our cohort. This Foundation pathway has been running successfully now for three years, and we will welcome our first cohort of BDS year zero students in September 2023, specifically designed to enable fairer access to dental education for local, South West students with non-traditional entry backgrounds.

Engagement with the professional community

I remain actively engaged with the Dental Nursing community through a number of external roles; I uphold my registration with the General Dental Council (GDC), and I am a trustee for the NEBDN, where I also chair the Education Standards Committee. In 2020, I was appointed as a Dental Clinical Fellow with Health Education England, which continues to afford me an insight into NHS dentistry, service commissioning, workforce challenges, DCP skill mix, and training needs, in line with the Dental Education Reform Programme.7 I am also a representative for Dental Nursing on the Council of the College of General Dentistry (CGDent), and with a dedicated and experienced team, we are working to establish the first Faculty of Dental Nursing. I am also grateful to the College for the opportunity to chair the Research Advisory Panel, espousing the message that research is open to all dental professionals.

Key learning points and recommendations

Instrumental in my career have been support and encouragement from those I work with, and seizing opportunities despite the frequent imposter syndrome! While by no means perfect, there tends to be more clarity in the pathway to an academic career for dentists, which is lacking for other dental professionals, which means it can be extra challenging to carve your own route. Promisingly, I come across more and more outstanding DCPs in academic positions and I hope this will continue. This is one of the reasons I am excited about the CGDent Career Pathways in Dentistry: Professional Framework and the establishment of the faculties, and to promote the CGDent vision to make research opportunities accessible for all members of the dental team, to pro-actively support Dental Nurses and all team members to excel in their profession to their fullest potential.

The skills and experience I accrued as a Dental Nurse helped me to progress in other areas, including academia and research; working as a bank dental nurse had its challenges, arriving each morning to a new practice, with different staff, surgery set-ups and protocols was difficult at times, but I learned to be adaptable, and to think on my feet. Communication and team working skills were vital; and I was privileged to work with a variety of patients with their own range of perspectives and experiences and I learned a lot from them. Finally, working in a high-pressure environment, developing effective time management was crucial to being a competent Dental Nurse and these skills have also served me well in academia. I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone with an interest in research or an academic career to pursue that, to reach out to potential mentors or advisors for guidance, and to explore the CGDent Career Pathways frameworks, as well as membership of the College and its Faculties.


1. McIlwaine C, Strachan A, Harrington Z, et al. Comparative analysis of total salivary lipopolysaccharide chemical and biological properties with periodontal status. Arch Oral Biol. 2019;110:104633.

2. Strachan A, Harrington Z, McIlwaine C, et al. Subgingival lipid A profile and endotoxin activity in periodontal health and disease. Clin Oral Investig. 2019;23(9):3527-3534.

3. Roy H, Bescos R, McColl E, et al. Oral microbes and the formation of cerebral abscesses: A single-centre retrospective study. J Dent. 2023;128:104366.

4. Bescos R, Ashworth A, Cutler C, et al. Effects of Chlorhexidine mouthwash on the oral microbiome. Sci Rep. 2020;10(1):5254.

5. McIlwaine C, Brookes ZLS, Zahra D, et al. A novel, integrated curriculum for dental hygiene-therapists and dentists. Br Dent J. 2019;226(1):67-72.

6. Zahra D, Belfield L, Bennett J. The benefits of integrating dental and dental therapy and hygiene students in undergraduate curricula. Eur J Dent Educ. 2018;23(1):e12-e16.

7. NHS Health Education England (HEE). New plans for dental training reform in England to tackle inequalities in patient oral health. HEE. 21 September 2021. [Internet]. Available at https://www.hee.nhs.uk/news-blogs-events/news/new-plans-dental-training-reform-england-tackle-inequalities-patient-oral-health-0 [Accessed Dec 2022]

This account was first published in the Primary Dental Journal (vol. 12, issue 1, March 2023)

Update (June 2023): Since this article was published, Louise has been appointed Academic Head of Assessment at Brunel University Medical School and has stood down from the College Council to focus on her new role; however she remains on the College’s Research Advisory Panel.

Transforming oral health: A fellow’s journey

Dental Hygienist, Frances Robinson AssocFCGDent, has recently completed the Clinical Oral Health Transformation Fellowship with HEE. As the first ever dental care professional in any clinical fellowship role, Frances explains what was involved.  

A fellowship is a position, often combined with clinical work, that focuses on the learning and development of the individual taking part. Fellowship roles in the healthcare profession aim to expand opportunities for aspiring leaders; helping them gain the necessary experience and skills for future system leadership roles. As such, there are a range of opportunities to be involved with projects and programmes and to work in settings outside a clinician’s normal exposure. There can be specific goals of writing, submitting, and publishing papers, attending meetings and conferences, and working on particular projects, as well as networking. The balance of these is dependent on the host organisation.

I have just completed a one-year position with Health Education England (HEE) as their Clinical Oral Health Transformation Fellow. HEE’s purpose is to support the delivery of excellent healthcare to patients, by ensuring that the workforce has the right numbers, skills, values and behaviours. Thus, the areas I worked on related to the development of the oral health work force.

I was the first dental care professional (DCP) to be awarded the clinical fellowship, these roles are typically fulfilled by a dentist. I am extremely grateful for this innovative appointment both for my personal development and the development of my career, but also for other DCP colleagues, for now it has opened up new realms of opportunities for us to progress in system roles.

I applied for the role because of the potential to gain experience working in the public health sector, whilst allowing me to work clinically at the same time. Having completed a Masters in Dental Public Health in 2017 – spurred on by my interests in health inequalities research – I felt this position would be an excellent opportunity for me to develop my career.

At the CDO stand with Sara Hurley and other fellows at the BDIA showcase

During a fellowship there is flexibility to align the projects undertaken to individual interests, whilst working for the greater aims of an organisation. This means there is a real opportunity to tailor a role to where there is the most personal or organisational benefit. My aims for the year working with HEE were to work on projects that I’m interested in, for example oral health inequalities, oral health empowerment and promotion, increase my skill mix and exposure to multidisciplinary team working in primary care, as well and develop opportunities for leadership and management for all members of the dental team.

I am currently writing up multiple papers to be published; one evaluates the success of a pilot that aimed to reduce the number of paediatric patients sent to secondary care for dental extractions under general anaesthetic. A subsequent paper will evaluate the success of the “return to work” therapy scheme, a programme aimed at supporting Dental Therapists who have not been using their full scope of practice, back into therapy work by providing them with training opportunities, supervisor support and a practice placement. I will also be helping to write a concept paper for a Dental Hygiene postgraduate training programme.

During my time with HEE, I have had the chance to sit on various working groups like a “Managed Clinical Network” and interact with external organisations such as Public Health England, academic institutions, professional societies and local councils.

A clinical fellow may also have the opportunity to attend courses and gain qualifications that are not linked to their clinical work; I was selected to complete an Institute of Leadership and Management, level 7 qualification through HEE. I received three days of training with UMD Professional and then completed a research element which involved interviewing my colleagues at the HEE dental office.

Furthermore, I am currently completing a “Becoming an Expert Educator in the Healthcare Professions” course with the University of Nottingham. These additional skills and qualifications are important for demonstrating tangible outcomes from the year.

It has sometimes been a trying year due to the pandemic – working from home during a fellowship has meant less interaction with colleagues and difficulty integrating into an office very different from a clinical setting. Natural communication with colleagues is often stilted when working virtually. I subsequently created ice breakers for meetings with my peers to stimulate organic conversation!  

There are other fellows across the country with HEE and in other organisations for example with the Chief Dental Officer, General Dental Council, Care Quality Commission and NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE&I). We have a clinical fellow networking group where collaborations across work streams can be facilitated and a journal club takes place. This has given me the chance to network with new professionals across medicine and dentistry which has been really enjoyable! The fellows try to see each other in person despite being spread out across the country– the most recent of which was at the BDIA Dental Showcase at ExCel London.

As I was the first fellow at Health Education England to be a DCP I was – and still am – in a unique position to be an advocate for DCPs, working hard to make our voices heard across a variety of settings. I was asked to do a presentation at the BDIA conference on workforce and skill mix. I focused on the skill mix in our systems, policy, planning, commissioning, leadership and management. I am passionate about DCP representation in all of these areas as I truly believe that if we are represented throughout the system we will have a more empowered workforce. If you’re interested in taking up a Fellowship position, keep an eye on NHS jobs, HEE jobs, FMLM for dentists and your professional society pages.

Presenting at the BDIA showcase

The College of General Dentistry has a unique structure with exciting opportunities to create connections between different dental professionals against an academic backdrop. There are no other organisations in the industry now that represents all dental registrants in this way. The careers pathway programme will be able to support individuals navigating their fields; there will be guidance, support networks and mentors available to enhance learning and progression. I personally am very excited to have a structure in which to work, with industry recognition of the level attained. I know that many DCPs have much to offer the wider industry with postgraduate qualifications and extensive experience in many areas, as well as evidence of enhanced learning. The College will enable these efforts to be verified through a framework where all dental professional are assessed equally. This certainly is an exciting time for us all.

Frances Robinson chairs the Dental Hygiene & Dental Therapy Group on the College’s Career Pathways programme.

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Specialising in restorative dentistry

Dr Tom Willan, General Dental Practitioner in Yorkshire, describes the career journey that led him to specialise in restorative dentistry.

I qualified from Leeds university in 2011 and began working in general practice in West Yorkshire. The variety and flexibility of life as a GDP appealed to me and after my Longitudinal Dental Foundation Training years; where I had posts in orthodontic practice, community Dental Care and general practice I began working life as an associate. 

After working in a busy NHS practice in Leeds I moved to my current practice, Horbury Dental Care, in a small town outside of Wakefield. Horbury Dental Care is a large practice with 10 surgeries and a referral centre for implant dentistry, restorative dentistry, treatment under sedation and periodontics. Shortly after working here I felt it was the right stage in my career to consider undertaking further postgraduate to improve my skills and further my career. 

I am glad that I was patient; waiting 5 years before undertaking further postgraduate training; as I felt that gave me real life experience as core foundation for me to build my knowledge from. I researched the numerous post graduate courses on offer and chose the FGDP Diploma in Restorative Dentistry. The course had been thoroughly recommended by colleagues and I felt offered a fantastic blend of academic, clinical and hands on experience. 

The course consisted of 14 modules where small group teaching, lectures, hands on teaching and assignments developed my knowledge in all aspects of day to day restorative dentistry. Periodontics, Endodontics, Composite Bonding, Crown and Bridgework, the restorative aspects of implant dentist and prosthodontics were all covered. 
I found the course thoroughly enjoyable and I feel I have gained confidence and developed as a practitioner as a direct result. I found the course days enjoyable and developed a strong bond with my cohort. I surprised even myself with how I enjoyed the written assignments as they were all on relevant topics and helped contribute to my clinical work. 

The course was assessed by the assignments and also clinical casework. I submitted 8 case reports and 20 mini case reports on clinical cases from my practice over the 2 years. These were challenging but again developed my confidence as they were constructively analysed by my course tutor, who was approachable and very generous with his time to support my learning when needed. 

I was pleased to find out in December 2018 that the hard work had paid off and I had passed my final case assessments and I have now been awarded the FGDP(UK) Diploma in Restorative Dentistry. I would whole heartedly recommend the restorative diploma to any GDP looking to improve their clinical skills, knowledge and confidence.

Author bio

I qualified from Leeds university in 2011 and have worked in general practice in Yorkshire since then. I currently work at Horbury Dental Care, a large practice near Wakefield which is a referral centre for implant dentistry, restorative dentistry, treatment under sedation and periodontics. I recently decided to specialise in restorative dentistry and after two years of study have now been awarded the FGDP(UK) Postgraduate Diploma in Restorative Dentistry.

Dr Tom Willan

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in June 2019 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.

Where will your career take you?

Dr Sahar-Tara Aghababaie, part time Dental Associate in North West London, recommends making a clear career plan to help you steer your career in the right direction.

Whilst you’re currently in dental school, how much thought do you give to your career development 5, 10 or even 20 years after graduation? Any plans you may have will certainly need to be flexible enough to reflect the changes the profession will undoubtedly go through over the coming decades. 

I graduated from King’s College in 2015 but soon discovered that once you graduate, the learning never really stops. And that’s the wonderful thing about dentistry – it’s definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ career path. The profession is constantly evolving and developing, and as a clinician you will need to ensure you have a good grasp of these changes – not just for your own personal development, but also to ensure you provide the best quality of care for your patients. 

During my dental foundation year I completed my MJDF exam and then undertook further post-graduate training on a one-year course in Dental Education, as I have a keen interesting in teaching in the future. So, I would say to any dental student – post-graduate training is paramount!

Many young dentists agree the main challenge facing them is working within the current NHS system. Dental school certainly helps prepare you for practice, building the core clinical skills needed to be a dentist, but it doesn’t really prepare you for the minefield of UDA targets, associate contracts, accounts and finances, the ever present fear of litigation and of course, rising indemnity and registration fees. All of these can place a lot of pressure on newly qualified dentists and might cause some to lose the drive and motivation to further their careers. 

Through every stage of my professional journey, I have been fortunate enough to have key people to support me along the way. In addition to my strong family unit, key clinical tutors at dental school gave me a solid clinical foundation, my principal in general practice who has been guiding me through the challenges of managing a dental practice, and most recently the consultants I work with currently, who are providing new insight and guidance on further specialisms in Dentistry. They, along with my mentors, have supported both my clinical and professional development – which is paramount for any dentist, whatever stage they are in their careers. 

In 2017 I passed my MJDF exams and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and Faculty of General Dental Practice. But as the saying goes, ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’, and the same can be true in Dentistry. Becoming a member of FGDP(UK) offered the opportunity to network within the profession, which has allowed me to meet fellow dentists, seek advice from more experienced clinicians and get more involved generally. 

Networking and social media are an increasingly invaluable way to keep up to date with advances in the profession. There are lots of dental groups where dentists can discuss different cases with peers, and can prove an invaluable learning forum for young dentists looking to increase their knowledge – And not just clinical knowledge; I’ve learnt about the implications of new regulations, such as GDPR. So, once you start working in practice and you have a question about managing certain cases, or want advice on courses to take, you might find these groups can offer a different perspective and support. 

The wonderful thing about dentistry as a career is that you can make it whatever you want it to be. I thoroughly enjoy working within a multi-disciplinary team and different clinical environments. During the working week I’m mainly based at the dental hospital, where I’ve been able to conduct dental treatments under general anesthesia. At the weekends I work in general practice as an associate. It’s really been this variety that has given me an insight into different specialties and working environments plus the unique opportunity to manage more complex cases.   

There are so many different opportunities and career paths you can pursue, that the only limitation is you. You just have to have the drive to go for it. Whether that’s working in general practice, hospital, community, dental public health, research or training, you really have the unique opportunity to change paths during your career.  And that’s what makes dentistry so exciting as a career choice- you never know where it may lead you next.

Author bio

I qualified from King’s College London School of Medicine & Dentistry in 2015, after which I completed my dental foundation training. Following my training, I started to work as a general dental practitioner in a mixed NHS/Private dental practice in North West London which I help to manage.

In 2017, I started my position as a Dental Core Trainee at the Paediatric Department at The Eastman Dental hospital, whilst continuing my commitments in general practice part-time.

I have continued my post-graduate education and gained Membership of the Joint Dental Faculties of the Royal College of Surgeons England and the Faculty of General Dental Practice in 2017. I also have a passion for academic teaching and have recently completed my post-graduate qualification in Dental Education.

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in January 2019 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.

Working in a Maxillofacial unit in a District Hospital

As a DCT 1 in a District Hospital in Yorkshire, Dr Kenny Strain takes us behind the scenes of a busy Maxillofacial unit, describing the range of treatments he has been providing.

I’m currently a dental core trainee [DCT] 1 working in the maxillofacial team at Rotherham District General Hospital in South Yorkshire. I wanted to give you a bit of a glimpse into what it’s like to do dental core training in a district hospital.

I completed my foundation training in Barnsley, I enjoyed my time in practice and felt like I learned a huge amount but I was keen to get some more surgical experience as this was an area of dentistry that I had not had a huge amount of exposure to as an undergraduate or during my FD year.

I researched various options in terms of getting more experience of oral surgery and there are quite a few to choose from. There is mentoring/shadowing, hands on courses which can be small group based and involve patient or more class room based and use pig mandibles to provide a hands-on experience. The other main option is to apply for a position as a dental core trainee.

Within the Yorkshire Deanery, all of the DCT 1 positions are a 12-month contract working in Maxfac. The positions are either in teaching hospital, major hospital or district generals. From speaking to previous DCTs, I got the impression that working in a major unit would involve more oncology treatment and I was keen to work in a unit with a more general focus and therefore I opted for a district hospital.

At Rotherham we work on an 8-week rota covering Rotherham and another hospital in Mexborough. The rota will cover doing on-call duty or being assigned to work with a consultant as their senior house office [SHO] for the week. SHO is a term still used in some hospitals and corresponds roughly to a DCT.

The consultant team at Rotherham / Mexborough is made up of 5 consultants with a variety of interests ranging from skin cancer, head and neck cancer, trauma, orthognathic and TMD. The variety of specialist interests of the consultants mean that no two weeks are ever the same.

This week I’ve been working with the lead consultant for head and neck cancer, we had a major oncology case involving a radical neck dissection, there have also been new patient assessment clinics for patients referred on a 2 week wait suspected cancer pathway. On these clinics you can either be helping the consultant or seeing new patients and then presenting them. I’ve also been in the day surgery unit this week working with one of the staff grade oral surgeons, these sessions involve treating patients under local or general anaesthetic. Types of treatment carried out are often surgical extraction of wisdom teeth, difficult teeth or extractions for patients with severe dental phobia. Working on the day case list, it is not unusual to carry out full clearance on patients.

As I was saying, no two weeks are the same and last week I was the on-call SHO. Being on-call is probably the busiest part of the job. Our rota has various on-call slots, it can be days, nights, weekend days or weekend nights. All of these on-calls can be very different. On-call days is definitely the busiest and will test your administration and delegation skills to the limit. It’s not unusual to have calls to go see patients in A&E and paediatric A&E at the same time as you are managing patients on the ward, discharging other patients and ensuring that they are going home with the correct medication, arranging follow up appointments for patients, helping out in theatre and getting phone calls for advice from GPs and general dentists.

On-call nights can be very different, there is much less of the administrative work to do and more dealing with patients presenting to A&E or getting referred from other hospitals that don’t have a Maxfac team. The types of patients that you’ll see at night varies massively from shift to shift. Some nights involve lots of trauma such as fractured mandibles and zygomas or lacerations. The next night you may see patients with dog bites, children with dento-alveolar fractures and dental abscesses.

Since working in Maxfac I’ve seen a wide variety of dental abscess from can barely tell there is anything there to Ludwig’s angina and calling your consultant at 2am to ask them to come in as the patient is going straight to the emergency theatre.

I’ve really enjoyed my time working in Maxfac and would highly recommend it. Initially your skills and knowledge will be pushed to the limit and you’ll be learning constantly, but with time and a bit of experience you will get the confidence to deal with situations you may only have read about in a text book. At the end of your year in Maxfac, you’ll realise that not only will your dental and surgical skills have improved but your medical knowledge will have expanded and you’ll have a solid foundation for working in practice or for further specialist training.

Author bio

I initially studied dental therapy and dental hygiene at the School of Clinical Dentistry at the University of Sheffield. I Covered all areas of Oral Health, Periodontal treatment and Dental Therapy.

After graduating I took a full-time position in practice as Hygiene/Therapist working in the Lake District. When I wasn’t fixing teeth I was running marathons or climbing rocks. After working in practice for just over a year, I decided to return to university to study dentistry at the University of Aberdeen. I really liked Yorkshire and was keen to return, so I completed my foundation training in Barnsley. I’m currently a dental core trainee [DCT] 1 in the maxillofacial team at Rotherham District General Hospital in South Yorkshire.

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in June 2018 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.

Tackling life in general practice after Foundation Training

Dr Khush Shah, General Dental Practitioner, delivers three pieces of vital advice to help you tackle life in general practice.

I graduated from King’s College London in 2016 and completed my Dental Foundation Training in Birmingham. During Foundation Training, I was in two minds as to whether I wanted to move back into hospital or continue life as an associate dentist. In the end, after speaking with numerous people and seeking advice on the matter, I chose not to apply for DCT and have been working as an associate since. Reflecting upon this decision, I have not regretted it at all. 

The step into General Dental Practice as an Associate can be very daunting to take. Having been sheltered at Dental School and then having the presence of an Educational Supervisor safety net, people can find themselves very isolated when they choose to move into general practice (over the more structured hospital route). Couple that with the added pressure of striving to achieve a UDA target or embarking upon more complex private treatment plans, this will all add up to more stress in one of the most stressful professions in the UK.

I have three key pieces of advice to help you tackle life in practice: 

  1. Set yourself realistic goals: Specify timeframes, self-reflect and adjust your goals accordingly. 
  2. Surround yourself with people who will help you achieve this
  3. Develop and invest in yourself: Don’t think twice about the expense of a good pair of loupes, a DSLR camera or a highly recommended course you’re considering, as you will reap the benefits of these without a doubt.

1. Realistic goals

My biggest piece of advice would be to plan where you would like to see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years and at the end of your career. With goal setting – AIM BIG – but plan your smaller steps to achieve this. Everyone is different, which is why it is so important to take the time to personalise your Personal Development Plan. It is easy to say you want to “produce the best dentistry for your patients” or “run a successful practice”, however these are too generic. Specificity will help you identify weaknesses and develop strategies to improve these, highlight your strengths and allow these to flourish, but most importantly enable you to work towards the final goal you have set yourself. Learning which methods of self-reflection work for you, is a vitally important part of this, as it will give you scope to amend these goals as you progress.

2. Develop a peer support network

It is important to surround yourselves with like-minded individuals. This will form the basis of your peer support network. This can be through horizontal integration, with colleagues of similar experience, or vertical integration by finding a mentor to support and advise you. Not only does this allow you to discuss how to handle different situations, it provides you with a channel of communication to share any problems or anxieties that you may have. However, it is also crucially important that you are not comparing or competing with your peers. This can have a hugely negative impact on one’s self-confidence as it is much easier to compare your weakest traits (e.g. molar endodontics) and forget about your strengths (e.g. your attention for detail when producing secondary anatomy on a composite restoration). 

3. Develop and invest in yourself

There is an increasing array of postgraduate courses available and this can make it difficult to narrow down which would be most suitable for you. They have been set up to target a demand from young dentists where there are gaps in the undergraduate teaching curriculum. There are many deciding factors to look at: level of hands-on experience, post-nominal accreditation, number of contact days, individuals teaching the course. These elements will be valued differently by all; however, it is important that the right course is chosen for YOU. 

People will advise you to do as many courses as you can early on, or in contrast not to dive into a postgraduate course too soon in order to build up clinical experience that will be directly relatable to the course that you plan to undertake. In hindsight, there is no right or wrong answer to either of these and it depends on how best you learn (i.e. theoretically or practically). What is very clear to me, however, is that if you pick the right course, you will be investing in yourself in a way where the rewards will speak for themselves. Do your research, ask other people about courses they have been on and decide which will best suit you.

Author bio

I qualified from King’s College London in 2016. I completed my Dental Foundation Training Scheme in Birmingham. Since then I have been working full-time as a dental associate in a mixed practice. 

I completed my MJDF qualification in 2017 and have continued my postgraduate training by currently undergoing both a restorative and an implant course.

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in November 2019 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.