Tell us a little about your background.
I was brought up in the Lake District, and was one of four children of small-business people. My father bought and sold cars, cows, turkeys and small houses over the years when I was young. I was the first in my family to study A levels, and the first to go to university.
Have you always wanted to be a dentist?
No, I wanted to be a cattle-wagon driver, but with hindsight, I think that dentistry probably suited me better! I didn’t know what I wanted to do even when I was filling out my UCAS form. There was a recession on and high unemployment at the time when I was applying for university. Dentistry seemed quite recession proof, and I am a practical kind of girl, so plumped for that. I believe that whatever you choose to do in life, you find you own way in it, and if you choose to be the best that you can be, you will love it and succeed.
Can you tell us about your dental career?
After university I got a job in inner-city Leeds as an associate. I remember the principal only saying one thing to me: ‘Only use one pair of gloves per session.’ Don’t worry, I didn’t listen, but really I was on my own.
The practice was in a disadvantaged, challenging area, and I hated work. I loved the team and the people, but the work was not doing it for me – multiple missed appointments, failed to complete treatments, wall-to-wall amalgams, extractions – it wasn’t what I had signed up for.
I remember thinking that I had to move on, either to give up dentistry altogether, or to set up my own practice; do it a different way, my way. I fully believe that if I had been in a comfortable, supportive associate position, perhaps I would still be there, but great despair can be the psychological springboard to moments of great courage in our own lives.
Anyway, I was on maternity leave with my first child, and really bored while the baby was sleeping so much, so went on a ‘setting up in practice’ seminar. I decided to start a cold squat NHS practice in York when my baby was three months old. This practice grew a surgery at a time, and at its peak had 10 surgeries during PDS. With the later GDS contract, we downsized to maximise resources and I sold it last year at the same capacity, but with half the manpower and overheads.
Around 2000, I was doing more and more cosmetic dentistry and it simply didn’t seem appropriate for private patients who were spending thousands of pounds to be at the same reception desk as NHS patients, the concept didn’t fit. So I opened a new start-up private cosmetic practice. This practice – Andrea Ubhi York – is in the centre of historic York.
The practice is growing so fast now since I have had the headspace recently to develop it and the gross has grown by 50% in the past 12 months and the percentage profit has doubled. How? Well, I’d say by staying true to our core values – professionalism and providing the highest quality of the service that we possibly can – no shortcuts, patients always coming first, team second, profit incidental, and providing what the patients are wanting at the price they are delighted to pay.
What are the challenges of dentistry today?
There are so many. I think that dentists do well not to have a personality disorder. We are expected to be perfect clinicians, business people, marketers, researchers, managers, administrators, sociologists and psychologists, and that is all before a Monday coffee break.
At work we have to be professional, which can mean not saying what comes authentically. Being in dental practice is a drama. I remember being in surgery one day, and my nurse dropped the aliginate powder, an entire new bag. It was like a bomb had been deployed – there was a cloud of powder and an aftermath of destruction. But we were true professionals; the show went on, the weather was talked about and treatment completed while the patient remained unaware in the chair.
I think this professionalism versus authenticity can be a serious issue for dentists to get their heads round. If a patient is rude or bullying then we have to deal with the matter in a way that does not come naturally. It leads to pent up stresses. No, we don’t change into a different person at the end of the working day. We are actually the same all day long.
A dentist is required to be completely OCD about their treatment, like a precision engineer, and they are required to be an artist/sculptor. In life, when do these opposing qualities lie in the same person? We are remarkable to do all this, and we need to know that. Yes, we are remarkable people.
Another challenge that I have seen in associate dentists over the years is this: dentists earn good money. Some dentists find out that dentistry does not suit them. I would phrase it that they really are poor dentists, clinically and socially. These people know that they should quit, but the money is too good, and where would they find another job with just a degree that pays as well as they are used to?
These dentists just live with this inner pain of unhappiness. Life is not about money. Life is about loving what you do, being the best, and making a difference. Wake up, be brave, downsize and be happy.
What’s next for you?
I work harder now than ever, although I have chosen not to do clinical dentistry anymore due to time commitments. The growth of Andrea Ubhi York and the referral arm, Love Dental, is fun to develop and manage.
However, it is time to do what I was always meant to do. I have a family and team that love me; they watch my back and I watch theirs. But there are places in this world where girls don’t have that. Girls are being sold into the sex trade by their families and friends, and it’s time for me to go watch over them.
I have become a trustee for Asha Nepal, a charity in Kathmandu that cares for girls that have been returned from captivity in the brothels in India. They cannot return to their homes, so Asha has set up homes – a crisis centre, a children’s home (these girls are children, often aged between nine and 13) and foster homes. I don’t do it because it makes me feel good, I’m just doing what I feel I should be doing. As a practice, we are giving 10% of gross profits to Asha, which is small in the light of things.
What words would you say describe you?
Calm, fun, pioneering and very curly.
Any final words?
Be yourself and follow your dreams.
Andrea Ubhi is principal of Andrea Ubhi York, a cosmetic private practice, which she opened in 2002, and of Love Dental, a referral service for Yorkshire dentists. Andrea started an NHS practice, Clock House Dental, in York in 1996, selling in 2014. She is trustee for Asha Nepal, a charity caring for survivors of sex trafficking.