Becoming a mentor

Howard Farran has said that dentistry eats its young and we can all sympathise with that idea when we remember our initiation into the high volume, low quality dentistry of the NHS. This, of course, is also true of medicine where junior hospital doctors are the workhorses of the system.

It’s also been said that in times past when a new colleague opened in an area the existing dentists used to send along a few patients to help him start up; today we’re more likely to send a hit squad!

It isn’t true that what was good enough for us should be good enough for today’s graduates; we should look for a better entry into their professional careers for them.

With this in mind, the UK authorities introduced a series of ad hoc vocational training schemes in 1978, almost 30 years ago. These were designed to ease the new graduate into practice in a semi-supervised way. They got their act together in 1989 when a nationwide scheme was instituted and it was then was made compulsory in 1993. Today a UK graduate cannot own their own practice as a principal unless they have completed a VDP scheme.

Here in Ireland, Professor Denis O’Mullane mooted the idea of an Irish training scheme about 20 years ago. In 1998, at a hotel in Cobh, a meeting took place where a programme was planned and implemented. In 1999 Dr Frank Ormsby took over as the co-ordinator under the auspices of the PGMDB. Today the scheme is voluntary and will require a change to the Dental Act to make it compulsory, as in the UK. To date 55 graduates have progressed through the scheme and this year there are 14 graduates involved.

In the UK 750 young graduates complete a one-year programme, while 200 take part in a two-year programme. This has resulted in the elimination of the position of junior houseman from dental hospitals as the VDPs take on these roles.

The Irish scheme involves a principal dental surgeon and a general dental practitioner acting as trainers or mentors to the young graduate or vocational dental practitioner (VDP). The VDP spends two days working in a health service clinic, two days in general practice and 28 days per annum in a day release programme involving lectures and conferences. The remaining days are shared between clinic and general dental practice. The VDP is salaried from the HSE at a rate of 44,684 euros. The trainers receive a grant of 7,400 euros. All income earned by the VDP in general practice accrues to the practice.

The GDP is expected to oversee the entry into practice of the VDP. The BDJ, in July 1999, saw Massey state: ‘The challenge will be for the trainer to have responsibility for not only the education but also the assessment of their VDPs, whilst maintaining their status as a mentor not a master.’

Having applied some years ago to be a trainer, I was accepted this year when West Cork supplied the funding for a VDP. Principal dental surgeon Dr Tom Nyhan and myself act as trainers and mentors for Dr Mairead Cotter.

Mairead commenced with me on Friday 13 August, and in the short time since she started I am enjoying the extra help and company and passing on my experience.

It is to be hoped that the HSE and PGMDB can properly fund this scheme to allow it to continue to grow and flourish for the benefit not only of the new graduates but also us older guys!

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