NHS dentistry or private: what’s right for you?
Many young dentists ask me whether they should focus their career on NHS or private practice; what should they aim for? My answer is, it depends. You need to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, both clinically, as well practically and emotionally.
As a young, or indeed old, dentist, career choices are often hard. The path is rarely easy and do we ever get it right?
We are taught as undergraduates to constantly reflect, reassess and re-evaluate ourselves in clinical terms, but it’s even harder to do that with our career hopes and dreams, and to do it honestly.
The more you learn….
As final year dentists, we are often encouraged into a hospital posts, which we are told are better than being in dental practice on some high street above a chip shop (you may recall similar conversations with your academic staff at your university!).
It’s an interesting debate and with my career, I’m still working it out. I believe if you speak to most academics, or successful clinicians, they will tell you the same thing; the more you learn, you find out the more you need to learn.
My background is a GDP and I graduated in 2009 from Newcastle dental school. I did my vocational training (VT as it was then) in a great practice in Consett, County Durham. During this time, I developed an interest in restorative dentistry, implants and IV sedation, and I knew I wanted to do something with this in the future.
I had lots of friends in London, and the buzz of the city attracted me to move here. This was mainly because it was somewhere I wanted to live, rather than for any career purpose.
I then started an NHS post in North London. It was a maternity cover post to see if I liked living in the city so gave me chance after nine months to leave. And, after nine months I hated it, so I headed off to Mauritius on holiday to relax and think about what I wanted to do next.
I hated the treadmill of UDA’s, the pressure of being double booked, the pressure of meeting my UDA target, the pressure of writing notes to the standards set, and seeing over 30 patients in one day.
I felt I could not give patients the best standards of care, and produce the best quality I could. This has always been my mantra.
Further qualifications and skills
During this time, I did the MJDF qualification, to make my CV stand out, improve my knowledge of general practice and give me options if I want to specialize in future.
So I started working in private practice in southwest London/Surrey and it was a nice change. I completed a sedation qualification with the Eastman Institute and was providing sedation in my practice. I also started an Implant Diploma with the Royal College of Surgeons.
Over time though, I found my day to day work at the practice was becoming dull and they could not support my implant ambitions, so I moved to a mixed practice, where I might have the opportunity to do implant work and let me provide IV sedation.
After a few months’ however, I realised that mixed practice really wasn’t for me. I did not like the restrictions of the NHS, being on the treadmill again, and the implant work I wanted to do didn’t materialise.
Turning a wrong into a right
I then moved to a practice, which ended in disaster, and has shaped the last two years of my career, and in the end for the better. This incident is what prompted me to get involved with the BDA, and to give support to other young dentists, so they do not have to go through the bad experience I did.
Falling out with work colleagues is awful and you need support and advice to help you through it. The support I got from the BDA and my indemnity organisation, as well as from family, friends and loyal colleagues, is what helped me through a very difficult time.
It is actually very common to have issues at work, so it’s important to realise you are never alone, but be very careful who you confide in.
A good peer support group, the BDA’s Young Dentist Groups, the WhatsApp dental friend group, and indemnity companies are all excellent places to start building up your network and your potential support group, if, and when, you need it.
Short, middle and long-term goals
Following this I now work for some great people who have been supporting my career to grow in the direction I want it to.
I have a great local implant tutor who helps me with cases, I am now building up these cases and really enjoying my job. I also have great support from my practices with regards to family and time off – it’s so important to get the right work-life balance that works for you.
In careers advice sessions, people always advise the approach of thinking about your short-, middle-, and long-term goals, and I think this is a good way to approach your career path.
My goal over the next 12 months is to provide about 40 implants, and continue to build this experience.
Over the next five years, I would like to do a masters in restorative dentistry (with a potential to specialise, but depending on costs) and consider buying a dental practice, while also doing some work in academia.
My path hasn’t always been smooth or easy, but I do not regret any of the choices I have made. My advice is to keep learning, even if the learning is sometimes very tough – find the positive and turn it into your advantage.
Rob Chaffe, YDC member
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