Your route into primary dental care

As a newly qualified dentist, you’ve considered the options and decided to pursue a career in primary dental care. So, what do you do next?

The idea of a ‘career’ in primary care can be hard to define for general dental practitioners (GDPs). Unlike the secondary care sector, where there has traditionally been a structure for the career development of dentists, the career paths available to GDPs in primary care have not always been so clear.

The Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK) (FGDP [UK]) offers GDPs the opportunity to develop their career beyond a primary dental qualification. The Career Pathway combines postgraduate training and education in a framework that provides life-long learning and support, as well as a focus on professional development.

The Pathway consists of three stages. The foundation (first) stage is the starting point and marks a demonstration of generalist competencies. The second stage involves further training and development. It allows the GDP to choose from a variety of educational options and enhance their skills in areas of particular interest to them. The final stage leads to the award of the Fellowship of the Faculty.

The Fellowship concept is familiar to many academic institutions. For the FGDP (UK), the Fellowship is considered the highest accolade it can award, enabling practitioners to show that all of the skills and experience gained as they have progressed through the three stages of the Career Pathway are being put into practice for the benefit of staff, patients and colleagues.

The Career Pathway, as a route to achieving Fellowship of the Faculty, was introduced at the end of 2005. The first candidate to complete it did so in May 2006.

The Pathway aims to provide a route to the Fellowship that is accessible and achievable for all GDPs, regardless of age or experience. It is demanding, but has a structure that allows flexibility, enabling the person embarking on it to remain in practice while undertaking education and training at their own pace. It also provides a framework that allows the development of special interests within primary dental care along the way.

The Pathway uses a system of transferable educational credits. There are a number of ways to award educational credits in the UK; one of the better known ones is the Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (CATS), which is used by many universities. The FGDP (UK)’s ‘tariff’ is normally one credit for every 10 hours participants spend learning.

Stage two is about building on this commitment to continuing education by undertaking development and further training. This is also the stage where GDPs may wish to develop special interests in primary dental care. This requires participants to complete 120 hours of study (to gain 120 credits) in three areas:

• Clinical – participants must complete a minimum of 60 credits in a clinical discipline

• Management – a minimum of 30 credits in the field of practice management

• Other – the remaining 30 credits may come from either the clinical or practice management fields, or another area such as dental education or research.

Credits can be gained by undertaking postgraduate learning programmes. The FGDP (UK) offers a number of these, including diplomas in implant and restorative dentistry, with a new diploma in primary care orthodontics due to be introduced later in the year. The Faculty also runs a course in practice, the FGDP (UK) Certificate in Dental Health Services Leadership and Management. This fulfils the requirements for the management component of the Pathway. However, it’s not just through the completion of FGDP (UK) programmes that practitioners can progress along the Pathway. GDPs can also bring accredited learning from outside of the Faculty.

A number of postgraduate teaching programmes run by dental schools and other quality-assured institutes are accredited towards stage two of the Career Pathway, including:

• Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, Institute of Dentistry, Barts and the London, MSc in Implant Dentistry

• Eastman Diploma/MSc in Restorative Dental Practice

• Birmingham University MSc in Primary Dental Care

• BUOLD modules (40 credits for each module) leading to Bristol University’s Postgraduate Diploma in Dental Studies

• Liverpool University’s Certificate or Diploma in Dental Sciences

• Newcastle University’s Postgraduate Sedation in Dentistry Diploma

Credits towards the Pathway can be given to holders of educational certificates, diplomas or other taught modules provided by educational institutes, which are taught and assessed at masters level. However, they must have been quality assured by an external body.

Once all of the required credits at the first two stages have been gained, participants may then move on to the Fellowship assessment at stage three. This involves putting together a portfolio which includes the satisfactory completion of a practice questionnaire and a practice visit from a trained mentor. The portfolio also forms the basis of a final reflective discussion with the Fellowship assessors.

This is not necessarily the end point of the Pathway. Those who successfully gain the FFGDP (UK) are encouraged to become mentors to those who are preparing for their Fellowship assessment. They are also urged to become FFGDP (UK) assessors themselves, to ensure that the highest standards continue to be met.

Participation on the Career Pathway is open to all GDPs. The eligibility criteria for formal registration on the Pathway is simple. All participants need is to have a registerable qualification in primary dental care and be a member of the FGDP(UK).

One of the key benefits of formally registering on the Pathway is that the FGDP (UK) can keep participants up to date with the latest developments relevant to their progress. Pathway registrants receive quarterly issues of the newsletter Route to Success, which provides them with the latest Pathway information and developments. Those working through the foundation and second stage of the Career Pathway can also seek support from Faculty staff and fellow GDPs via the Career Pathway Advisors Service.

To get the most out of your career, GDPs are increasingly choosing to develop their skills, knowledge and competencies beyond registration and the requirements of the General Dental Council. It doesn’t matter what stage in your career you are at, the Career Pathway encourages learning for all, from the vocational trainee to the established practice principal. It is hoped that, with the support of such a development framework, the concept of a career in primary dental care will become less of a mystery.

Sally Hunter is a development officer for the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK), the academic home of general dental practitioners and dental care professionals in the UK. Based at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, it aims to promote excellence in the standards of patient care in general dental practice by encouraging involvement in postgraduate training, assessment, education and research.

The FGDP (UK) is hosting an event to showcase the Career Pathway on 2 February at The Royal College of Surgeons of England in London. The Career Pathway Open Day is a free event, open to all GDPs with an interest in their career development. The day will provide general information about the Pathway, as well as guidance on how to progress through the three stages. Five hours of CPD will be awarded to all GDPs who attend. To find out more about this event or the FGDP (UK) Career Pathway, please contact Sally Hunter on 020 7869 6766 or

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