Picking your practice

At some stage after graduation, many dentists will find themselves looking for a new practice and there will be many to choose from. But as with checking out rooms to rent, a property to buy or simply a piece of equipment at a dental exhibition, don’t forget that you’ll be talking to sales people who are working hard to make the whole deal look and sound particularly attractive.

Choosing a practice is an important decision. It will directly impact on your happiness and wellbeing, and your income as you start to repay any student debt. You will spend more waking hours in your surgery than you will at home or in your bed, so take your time, think carefully and choose wisely.

Find out as much about the practice as you can. Remember, practice literature can be very revealing! Key points to look out for include:

• Where is it?

• How long has it been established?

• What sort of area is it in?

• How many dentists and how long have they (each) been there?

• Are they partners/associates/VDPs etc?

If it seems promising, arrange a visit during surgery hours to get a feel of the practice when it’s busy. You also need to be able to meet the practice team – in particular, any existing associates, the reception/administrative staff and (if possible) your future nurse.

A visit after hours when the practice is closed will not allow you to form a rounded impression. Allow enough time to check out the immediate area – ask the local pharmacy or nearby shops about the good dentists in the area. Check the practice entry in the local Yellow Pages – what does it say to you?

At this stage in your career you may not have been round too many different practices, so here are some practical tips to help ensure that what you see is what you get.

New practice checklist

• How many patients are there?

• As a performer, what terms are the practice offering you and can you have a copy of the contract?

• What sort of contract does the practice hold with the PCT – is this likely to change?

• What is the patient split? Adults/children, NHS/private, private/capitation?

• Where will your patients come from?

• The appointment book. How many patients are booked in per day? Is it busy or are there gaps? (This is important if you are taking over from a departing associate). How many new patients? Is the appointment system organised or chaotic?

• What are the arrangements for emergencies and out-of-hours cover?

• What are the arrangements if you need to take time-off outside the holiday period defined in the contract? (For example, illness.)

• Infection control policy. Does the practice have one? Is there a central sterilisation area? If so, ask to see it.

• Staff training. Who goes on courses, and how often?

• X-ray equipment and processing facility. Check out the quality of any recently taken X-rays. Who takes them?

• Laboratory standards. Ask to look at any crowns/dentures waiting to fit.

• Are there adequate facilities for children and the elderly?

• Patient information. How actively is the practice promoting its services?

• Computerisation. What’s electronic and what’s manual and why? How long has the system been used? Will you be trained to use it?

• Working environment. Be sure to spend plenty of time in the surgery where you are likely to be working.

Remember, get a feel for the practice and don’t be rushed. Taking your time now will avoid any regrets later.

Dental Protection members can obtain advice on this and any other issues via the helpline 0845 608 4000.

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