The final-year meat market

For many the Easter period is a time to contemplate new beginnings and new life, and that is certainly true of this year’s cohort of final-year dental students.

All across the country March and April signify the release of job lists for Vocational Training (VT) placements and the rush to secure VDP (Vocational Dental Practitioner) places before the summer begins.

For many of us this is the first time we will have been in full-time employment, and after 19 years (more for many) in the education system the thought of actually having a job and getting out into the ‘real world’ fills the majority of us with a mixture of relief, excitement and trepidation.

Vocational Training is the route that most dental students will embark on once they have graduated, and is the route I also have chosen. VT has been around for a number of years now and basically consists of a year of working in an NHS practice alongside a trainer who is, in essence, your mentor and tutor for the year.

Although the VDP will work unsupervised in a way similar to any associate, they will also have the security of knowing that if they run into any difficulties, or are unsure of anything, help in the form of their trainer is never far away. Throughout the VT year there are also day-release schemes once a week in a local hospital with other VDPs and other training days and team building courses dotted throughout the year.

VT, as well as being a prerequisite for registration within the NHS for current graduates, is also a year of great development where graduates acquire new skills, grow in speed and confidence and learn how to better deal with patients.

Of course, VT in general practice is not the only option for graduates. Some will choose General Professional Training (where VT is combined with an associated SHO post the following year), or a VT programme in one of the forces or in the Salaried Dental Services, and a very few will chose to work in a solely private practice.

For those of us choosing to embark on Vocational Training, March and April is a time of frantic activity. Each different postgraduate deanery releases a list of trainers for the following year on a day of their choosing which is advertised beforehand and then scribed in capital letters in our diaries.

Unlike the medics, we still have the tried and tested CV/interview system of applying for jobs. Hence on the days that lists are released you will find final-year students glued to computer screens trawling through the lists and practice profiles, whittling them down to the ones they are interested in.

Having spent weeks compiling our CVs trying to decide what’s best to put in or leave out, how we can make ours stand out from the rest and just who to ask to be our referees, now is the time to put them into practice.

For many deaneries, though, it is not just a case of waiting to hear if you have been offered an interview at this stage. Before many of us hear back from practices that we have applied to, there is the Jobshop, the meat market of the VT process.

These events really have to be seen to be believed. On the day that the list for a particular deanery is released or shortly afterwards, the Jobshop will be held at some central location. This is where most, although not all, of the trainers that are on the deanery’s list for the coming year congregate to advertise their practices and expertise, trying to tempt the young hopefuls into applying for their post, although it is not the practitioners doing most of the advertising.

What ensues is a swarm of over-excited and slightly nervous dental students desperately trying to locate the practices they are interested in after perusing the profiles on the internet. It is an opportunity to glean some more information about the practices one has applied for and to make an impression on the person who may end up deciding their future. Students barge past each other vying for prime position, CVs in hand, trying to convince each trainer that they are the best person for the job. After a frantic hour or two you leave the Jobshop, head spinning, hoping that you came across well and trying to collate the reams of information you acquired.

Applying for VT is both a stressful and exciting time, the first big step towards a real career in dentistry. There is a slight shortfall in the number of training places nationwide and some areas of the country, such as the South East where I am applying, are very over subscribed. It is not uncommon for practices having in excess of 100 applications for the one VDP post so competition is high, which makes waiting around to hear from trainers very stressful.

But at the same time it is an exciting period as the end of your BDS course is in sight and your goal of being a fully fledged dentist and doing real work and earning real money is on the horizon. So here I am, hoping and praying that five years of work and several weeks of frantic job hunting will pay off with a great first step on what I know will be an extremely enjoyable and rewarding career. Good luck to anyone else doing the same!

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