The good news is that there are plenty of career opportunities for dental nurses. In my experience, dental nurses have a ‘shelf life’ of approximately 10 years. Of course there are always the exceptions to this, and I take my hat off to those dental nurses, some of whom I know quite well, who have continued dental nursing for over 15 years. Maybe they have more patience, maybe their employer has always treated them as part of team. Whatever it is, those dental nurses are happy and content in their job and that is to be commended as an achievement in itself.
For the dental nurse who wants something a little different, the opportunities are vast. The obvious one is that they go back to college for five years and they themselves become a dentist. Next to that, of course, is a two-year course to become a hygienist. Through this medium you can become self-employed, which in itself gives great independence and flexibility. I have to admit I don’t know of any dental nurse who went on to become a dental technician, but I’m sure it happens. It’s a good profession and first-rate dental technicians will always be in demand.
Many dental nurses leave their position chairside and become the practice manager, their job entailing the running of the practice in an everyday capacity. This is likely to include overseeing the appointment book, doing the ordering, doing the monthly and yearly financial accounts, if they have a head for figures, and perhaps even being in charge of the salaries, after attending a book keeping/ accountancy type course.
Unfortunately, dental practice manager courses for the dental nurse are so far mainly in the UK, and although dental nurses do travel to attend some of these short weekend type courses, the effort involved to attend a year-long practice managers’ course makes it a little more difficult, but the qualification is obviously superior.
Some dental nurses would feel that they’ve been ‘running the practice’ for 10 years without attending any course and they may wonder why they should need to attend one, knowing the commitment that going back to the books entails. But, again in my experience, the dental nurses who return to college end up as the practice managers who ‘manage’ a practice with a lot more skill and confidence, built on a basis of educational and practical knowledge, and even some psychological knowledge. These are also the practices that run more smoothly and where staff relate to their manager better, since they know that a certain level of qualification has been achieved alongside the experience. And for obvious reasons, practice managers who have gone back to college, in whatever shape or form, can command a higher salary for their efforts.
Other dental nurses may go on to complete higher level courses that qualify them in sedation techniques and their services would be required in the oral surgery sector. There is the option of a qualification in dental radiography or further education to become an orthodontic therapist.
Thinking outside the box, dental nurses often attend a special teaching course if they would like to become involved in the training of student dental nurses. To work within the prison services also requires dental nurses with special skills. Working with homeless or drug dependent patients, perhaps within the health board service, requires special training and provides challenging work for dental nurses who can offer a certain level of understanding, combining clinical abilities with kindness and patient listening skills.
Dental companies love former dental nurses. Dental nurses understand the products better than detailers who have not worked in a practice environment. Their sales skills come to the fore when doing business with a dentist, as they have the knowledge to facilitate a good explanation of any new products on the market. The obvious advantage to a dental company is that there is no need to educate the new employee regarding any product that requires special handling, plus products in everyday use would already be familiar to the dental nurse. Perks of becoming a dental rep would often include a company car, not to mention an unending supply of toothbrushes and toothpaste!
So for the dental nurse out there who is feeling a little frustrated, but loves the dental profession as a whole, don’t worry; there are lots of opportunities awaiting you just around the corner.