It is one of the most well-known advertising slogans in recent years. Yes, the armed forces’ plea to ‘Be the best’ at first might not seem like it has much to do with you, but many dental students and dentists do take note and decide to follow a career that serves their country.
The mission of the Defence Dental Services (DDS) is: ‘To deliver effective military dentistry that contributes to force generation and enhances operational capability.’
Of course this all sounds well and good but it doesn’t quite describe the nitty gritty of being a member of the armed forces. However, if this kind of pathway appeals to you, don’t worry because Starting Out is here to give you the inside track.
First, there are several different points at which you can make your decision to join the dental division of the armed forces. Whether you choose to be part of the army, navy or air force, you will have to go through an interview process that will probably involve a series of aptitude tests, leadership exercises and face-to-face interviews. However
daunting this may sound, it is tempered by the flexibility applicants receive to decide to apply at different points of their training.
For example, you may have decided in your early days as a student or even before that the armed forces were for you. In that case, if you have applied and been accepted, you will probably qualify for a cadetship, which means that you will receive funding from the armed forces for part of your time as a student.
Obviously this has its advantages, removing some of the financial headaches that often plague dental students, but it can also offer something much more than financial security. It can give dental students a sense of stability as they know that a job is waiting for them when they leave university and particularly, in recent times of workforce uncertainty, that can be worth its weight in gold.
Another point where you can enter the armed forces is before Vocational Training (VT). Again, this removes the uncertainty of finding a job and enables you to focus all your energies on your finals rather than having to run around the country attending lots of different interviews.
Or, you may want to join after a stint in practice, when you have experienced a different type of dental set-up – the choice is yours.
Not long after joining up you will be expected to complete officer training. This usually lasts for a couple of months and will provide you with an insight into the non-dental side of life in the armed forces, so preparing you for future assignments.
After that the world really is your oyster – you can expect to be doing everything from spending a week in a submarine or training with the Royal Marines to honing your surgical skills at a maxillofacial unit or taking part in military parades.
During this ‘experience’ time you may also get to travel abroad, so if seeing as many places as possible is high up on your life agenda then the armed forces could be a perfect fit.
When the real work begins you are likely to be stationed at a large base where you can gain a wealth of experience treating the forces. Your job as a dentist is to carry out routine dental treatment for the personnel under your care.
As you would expect, patients present with the full range of dental problems, however the difference is that many of them may be anticipating being in the front line of operations, so it is your responsibility to ensure they are dentally fit.
During your time in the armed forces you may be deployed abroad, which is something you should be prepared for. Whether this means a tour of duty in a conflict zone like Iraq or Afghanistan or more of a humanitarian mission, don’t assume because you are a dentist that you will never be required to go.
Of course, being in the armed forces gives you the opportunity to experience things that you have never dreamed of and is definitely not your average nine-to-five practice job. But it is a different way of life too, so it pays to make sure you are fully committed to it before you sign on the dotted line. And if you do put pen to paper, remember you’ll be expected to ‘Be the best’.