While the end of your final year may seem like a long way away, it won’t be long until you have to be thinking about what to do next. Of course, for many final-year graduates there is a straightforward answer – most will move onto Vocational Training (VT) and progress through the practice system from there.
However, even though there is a fairly rigid career pathway set up for dental graduates, it doesn’t mean that your next step doesn’t require careful thought. Choosing the right VT scheme is key to ensuring you start your career in a positive way. And there is a lot to think about.
You will have to look at the location of the practice, what percentage of its work is private and NHS, whether it is large or small and how your working hours are set up. These can all seem rather baffling at the moment but read on – in the next few paragraphs we will guide you through the maze of choices you will have to make and will ensure you make the right decision.
For many people location is the primary consideration when choosing to apply for VT places. You may have decided you would like to stay close to your university city or maybe you would like to move back to the area your family are from. In other instances, you may want to try a completely different area altogether. All of these options have their pros and cons.
If you choose to stay close to your dental school then the chances are you will have a good idea of what the VT practices are like in the area. You will also be able to draw on the very valuable resource of your clinical tutors who should be able to tell you which practices would fit your particular needs. However, if you do choose this option remember that competition is likely to be fierce. You will need to be proactive to stay ahead of the game and you will also be competing against some of your friends for those coveted positions.
Choosing to return back to your hometown after graduation also has its positive aspects. You will know the area, so you will be able to find a practice based on proximity to where you want to live and the chances are that the upheaval of moving to a new place will be minimal. The downsides may be that you will know very little about the local dentistry community and will therefore have to do a considerable amount of research to ensure you target the right jobs.
Of course, choosing to pursue a job somewhere completely different can have its advantages too. It can be an adventure and going somewhere where nobody knows you can be a refreshing change for those who have been stuck in the same place for five years or more. Again, without local knowledge to draw upon, you will have to investigate the opportunities thoroughly but if you have always wanted to live near the sea or move to the big smoke this could be your chance.
NHS and private work
The amount of private and NHS work that the practice takes on may not seem like much of a consideration when you are looking for a VT place, but it can be useful to find out before you make any decisions.
If you already have in mind that you would like to go into the private sector then a practice that takes on a lot of private work may be a useful starting point for you. Through the learning process you will get an idea of how these kinds of practices differ from purely NHS enterprises, so it may give you valuable skills and knowledge for the future.
Similarly, if you want to stay within the NHS or follow a career in the salaried services, it can be worthwhile choosing a fully NHS practice where you are guaranteed to treat a variety of patients, presenting with different problems.
Considering the size of the practice you are applying to is essential when approaching the VT process. Different set-ups suit different people but if you are a people person and
like to work in a bustling environment a two-chair practice may not be for you.
Dentistry provides lots of different options from quiet enterprises to surgeries, which have 15 chairs, so there is plenty of choice. Where a larger practice may be more sociable, you might also have to work harder to keep the whole dental team happy and involved in practice decisions.
A smaller practice may not have any problems with staff politics but also might not suit those who like a good knees-up at the end-of-year Christmas party.
One thing that is different about a lot of VT jobs is the working hours that are set by the practice owner. For example, where some trainers will expect you to come in to work at those times where you don’t have group study days, other practice owners will consider this a day for you to use as you choose. While in many cases this won’t make a difference to your decision it is something to consider when applying for jobs.
Also, if you like to keep your evenings free then choosing a practice that works late nights is probably not for you. It is also worth checking weekend and on-call arrangements within the practice – will you be required to be available?