Career crossroads

When vocational training (VT) comes to an end, it’s time to weigh up your choices. Having survived the nerves and rigours of life after dental school there is another decision to make before you can continue – what’s next?

Well, there is plenty. Much to look forward to in a profession that is growing by the day and throws up more challenges and opportunities than the average Joe Bloggs might think. There are a whole array of different routes you can use to get to your chosen destination and if you haven’t yet decided where you are going, that’s ok too, because dentistry enables people to move around frequently and you can always change your direction at a later date.

Many VT days are devoted to ensuring that VDPs have all the information they need to move forward. However, for those of you who are still a little confused, here are just some of your career options and how to find out more.

Choosing to be an associate is the most popular route for VDPs. Whether you have been offered a position at your VT practice or you have decided to take a job elsewhere, it is a good way of honing your skills a little more, earning some money and having the sense of security that moving between jobs regularly can’t bring.

People choose to become associates for all sorts of reasons and not all of them are professional. Many of them are personal and linked to quality of life and work/life balance. With an associate’s position, you generally have a large say in your working hours, how many patients you see and what time off you can take, because essentially you are self-employed.

The financial rewards can also be tempting as most people will see a substantial increase in their salary over the first 12 months, which can help to ease any student debt still hanging around. Of course many people like the rhythm of practice life, enjoy getting to know their regular patients and may want to eventually become practice owners. Owning your own practice is a big step up from an associate, but learning the ropes from a helpful principal may be just what you need to get started.

If you want to become a specialist in any discipline you will have to follow the correct training pathway. That usually means a minimum of two years of structured training, gaining experience in several branches of dentistry. A good way of gaining this experience is to be accepted on to a

General Professional Training (GPT) scheme or working as a senior house officer at a hospital.

You are also required to complete your Diploma of Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery (MFDS). The MFDS is a qualification designed for those wishing to qualify for entry to specialist training. Once you successfully complete the MFDS you can seek entry onto an approved specialist training programme. Some equivalent qualifications to the MFDS will also be acceptable when applying.

Specialist training will last a minimum of three or five years depending upon the speciality. For example, special rules exist for people wishing to specialise in orthodontic or paediatric dentistry. For these disciplines you are required to complete an additional minimum of two years training on top of the basic requirement of three years.

All specialist trainees are issued with a National Training Number (NTN) by their postgraduate dean and are assessed throughout their training to ensure that the necessary support is being given and progress is being made. Once specialist training has been completed you will be awarded a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST). This means that you can gain entry to the specialist list in your discipline and that you can call yourself a specialist.

Post-VT, you can also apply for a hospital job and you will usually be applying for a senior house officer position. You will have to choose which discipline you want to specialise in and also find out whether this involves you doing any on-call work.

Hospital jobs can be beneficial because they will give you further experience in a particular area. This may lead to you being more confident with certain procedures and, if you decide to go into practice, comfortable enough to carry these out in a practice setting rather than referring patients to your local hospital. These positions can also give you a taster of what it is like to specialise. If you are unsure if this is what you want to do, a year or two in a hospital setting may help you make up your mind.

Many people feel that after five years of studying followed by a challenging year of VT, they want to take the opportunity to go away and work abroad. There is no doubt that this is a good time and may even help you make decisions both professional and personal that you may have otherwise put off. Preparation is the key to being able to make the most of your time away.

It is important that you take a lot of time to research the country that you are going to be living in, its visa

requirements and the job market. You need to ensure that where you are going offers the right opportunities for you and that it fits in with your plans.

For example, some countries have a surplus of positions for dentists in rural areas but have very little available in the cities. Working abroad is a fantastic way of broadening your experience and skills while seeing some of the world. It also gives you the time and space to decide what the next step on your career ladder might be.

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