Rewarding the inspirational

On a chilly and crisp November morning, nominees and guests destined for the Dental Defence Union’s (DDU) 2006 Educational Awards made their way to the capital to attend this year’s event at Trinity House in Tower Hill.

Overlooking the Tower of London, the venue’s grey exterior lulls visitors into thinking what lies behind the entrance doors is probably little more than a few comfy conference room chairs and a watercooler. That’s why, when you step inside, you can’t help but gasp as you’re greeted by a majestic sweeping staircase, guarded either side by two well-turned-out gentleman carved from stone.

Taking up the remainder of the entrance hall’s space are models of ships, dating back from the 17th Century, and the binnacle of the HMS Warspite. The maritime theme continues throughout the rest of the 18th-Century building, which is home to the General Lighthouse Authority for Wales, England the Channel Islands and Gibraltor.

It seems fitting that the home of charity that helps weary sailors find their way through choppy seas should be hosting the DDU Educational Awards. After all, the teachers and trainers the event honours have a similar role in guiding young dental professionals through the rough waters of their academic careers.

The event has been running for four years and this time, in response to the General Dental Council (GDC) opening its register to dental care professionals (DCPs), couple of changes were made to the award categories. As always there were awards for the Dentist Teacher and VT Trainer of the Year, but this year students were also invited to nominate the DCP teacher they felt had been the most inspiring to them during their studies.

The winner of the VT Trainer of the Year award was decided before the event. This freed up the nominees in this category, Stephen Brookes from the Oxford Deanery and Kent, Surrey and Sussex Deanery’s Mike Kelly. This left them with nothing more pressing to do than to let their nerves stew as they waited until the end of the day to find out if they had won.

The nominees in the Dentist and DCP Teacher of the Year categories were not so lucky. In the month prior to the awards ceremony, they were set a brief by the DDU. They had to draw up a 15-minute presentation, discussing the Innovative Ways to Make a Positive Educational Impact on Dental and DCP Students, and perform it at the event. The topics and styles of each presentation varied widely between the nominees.

Sheila Phillips, from the Portsmouth School of Professionals Complementary to Dentistry, was a nominee in the DCP Teacher of the Year category. During her speech, she advocated the use of online learning systems. She also explained why she feels that generating enthusiasm, encouraging participation and capturing the imagination of students is vital if you want to be considered a good teacher. Competing in the same award category was Susan Bissett from Newcastle’s School of Dental Hygiene. During a relaxed and humourous presentation, she discussed the difference empathy makes to the way she teaches and the pride she feels at getting to play a part in her students’ academic journeys.

During the Dentist Teacher of the Year presentations, Ziad Al-Ani from the University of Manchester took to the stage and showcased his preferred teaching resources, including a dental version of the popular television quiz show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He said the success of his teaching was due to creative thinking and the development of learning aids, such as his take on popular primetime TV shows that help to promote student participation.

Mark Greenwood, from the University of Newcastle, followed this with a discussion of his preferred teaching methods. He spoke with authority about how he felt students benefited from being exposed to patients regularly. At Newcastle, he explained, students get to interact with a mix of actor and real patients to get them used to implementing their clinical knowledge in a personable way.

With the presentations out the way, the nominees were then put in the firing line of the judging panel who quizzed them about the work they do. Questions were also invited from the audience and covered a plethora of different topics, including the use of technology in teaching and how to ensure students recognise their ethical and professional obligations.

The theme of this year’s awards was ‘The teamworks: developing the dental team.’ While the judges mulled over who the winners in each category should be, the audience was treated to an ad-hoc musical performance designed to why working together as a group is key for effective team working. In full view of the audience, four musicians were given a piece of music to play they had never seen before. Then, against the clock, they had to learn it for a performance 20 minutes later. The exercise was to show ‘how musicians use the multiple facets of teamwork and creativity to meet performance deadlines.’

After the performance, the audience was addressed by Mabel Slater, DCP director at GKT Dental Institute, and the British Dental Association’s (BDA) president Sue Greening during two presentations. Slater spoke about what a difference registering DCPs with the GDC will have on the industry. She also warned that when it comes to CPD, DCPs must be prepared to start taking care of themselves. ‘Once the register closes the onus will be on the DCP to ensure that they are keeping up to date with their CPD requirements,’ she said. ‘What DCPs must remember is that there is lots of CPD out there for them, they just need to know where to look for it.’

With the instruments put back in their cases and the food for thought, courtesy of Greening and Slater, digested it was finally time for the winners to be announced. After patiently sitting through the day’s events, Mike Kelly was awarded the VT Trainer of the Year award. ‘I’m grateful to VT and the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Deanery for sticking with me and helping me develop my teaching skills,’ Kelly said. ‘If VT trainers want to be as professional in our teaching as we are in our clinics, we need to appreciate there is a science in teaching, as well as dentistry, and that being a good clinician doesn’t automatically make us a good teacher.’

Kelly, along with the rest of the day’s winners, received a certificate, trophy and cheque for £250. These were presented to them by the head of the DDU Rupert Hoppenbrouwers and Dentsply’s general manager Peter Rees.

Speaking earlier on at the ceremony, Rees mentioned how pleased he was to have Dentsply sponsoring the event for the fourth time in a row. ‘Dentsply are proud to be associated with the DDU in offering the community the opportunity to nominate their most talented educators, so they may receive the recognition that their success deserves. Every year the audience gets bigger and bigger, which is great because it’s very important to acknowledge the work the teachers do. Not everyone can be a winner, but in a sense they all are just by being here today.’

Mark Greenwood took home the Dentist Teacher of the Year award. He said: ‘As a practising clinician, I was asked to run the human diseases course for the students in order to help them understand how they can apply what they learn to the practise of dentistry. ‘I’m committed to the course’s success and its very satisfying to know that the students value the experience.’

The award for the DCP Teacher of the Year found itself a new home on the mantelpiece of Sheila Phillips. She gushed: ‘I’ve always been passionate about my role and the work I do in helping my students to prepare for their responsibilities. The Portsmouth School of Professionals Complementary to Dentistry was founded only in 2004 and our first cohort of students will qualify next July, so it’s really very encouraging that our work has been already recognised at such an early stage.’

Despite nursing a sore throat, Hoppenbrouwers concluded the day’s events by saying: ‘Congratulations to all the finalists and particularly to Sheila Phillips, Mike Kelly and Mark Greenwood who have clearly demonstrated the many ways in which the best dental teachers and trainers can motivate and inspire their students and trainees.

‘We continue to be impressed by the dedication of teachers and trainers to producing good professionals who understand their responsibilities to their patients and are able to deliver the best possible patient care. Their hard work holds the key to the success of the profession, as well as ensuring they are less likely to need the help of dento-legal advisors.’

With the awards given out and the achievements of all involved applauded, the lid was closed on awards for another year. The DDU said it set out to reward the inspiring, and from speaking to the nominees – all overflowing with enthusiasm about the work they do – I was awestruck before long. If it’s inspiration you’re looking for, then look no further. These guys have got it in spades.

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