Career Progression in the Dental Profession

Finding opportunities for career progression is an ambition for many of us in the dental profession, now that the culture of continuous professional development has become established. The past 10 years have been a time of adjustment to new educational requirements and has raised a new set of benchmarks that dental educators are now beginning to accommodate.

In 2006, the introduction of dental nurse registration brought a range of associated educational requirements that were not universally anticipated or understood from the outset. Before registration, dental nurse training was strongly recommended, rather than being a legal requirement. At that time across the profession, less than half of the dental nurses working chairside every day held a formal qualification. Now every dental nurse must be qualified, or be working toward a qualification.

The impact of having a more highly educated workforce has enhanced the confidence of dental nurses and the longevity of their careers. Previously, the employment cycle of dental nurses, (particularly in big cities with multiple practices) was brief—in some cases as short as 6 months at each practice.

When dental nursing registration was first introduced, large numbers of team members working primarily as receptionists and practice managers, yet holding dental nursing qualifications, did not fully understand the implications of not taking the opportunity to register. At the time they did not often work chairside and so did not see the point in paying an annual fee for registration that they did not need for their team role. Now as a training provider, I frequently have calls from highly experienced receptionists and practice managers wishing to progress their careers into dental nurse training and assessment and first need to retake their dental nursing qualification and join the GDC register before they can teach the next generation of dental nurses.

The evidence of competence required to achieve a GDC recognised dental nursing qualification is identical whether you have worked in a dental team for 20 years, or 20 minutes. Increasingly, course providers have recognised that the learning needs of the more experienced candidates are wildly different to those of new dental nurses. Needing to attend a course at a local college on day release with school leavers has meant that unregistered but highly experienced dental team members are unable to progress in their careers. Even if they are prepared to join a dental nurse training programme, it is difficult to get their employer to release a member of staff to take a training programme that will lead the senior member of their team out of the practice and into new employment. Alternatively, they may choose to attend evening classes or complete a distance learning programme designed to introduce skills and knowledge, rather than to update and revalidate their existing knowledge.

There is no comparison in the complexity of dental nursing skills today to those of 10 years ago. The dental education sector is now better structured and regulated than ever before, its responsibility is to create a new generation of dental educators by drawing on reservoirs of maturity and knowledge within the profession. The first step is to create training opportunities that can take experienced but unregistered team members through to being fully qualified and registered dental nurse educators. Such opportunities are opening up and are worth seeking out.

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