Leo Briggs, deputy head of the DDU, looks at the pros and cons of having a dental student in the practice.

With university tuition fees in England now at £9,250 per year, it is more important than ever for young people to choose a career that they will love. Consequently, a student work placement can be a great way for students to gain a sense of the ‘working world’ and discover whether their dream career matches up in reality. However, hosting a student placement can present a number of challenges and if your practice is asked to host a student for a period of work experience, it is important that you consider a number of different areas.

Review on an individual basis

It is important to consider each request on a case by case basis. Students will show different levels of maturity and it is essential that you satisfy yourself that the individual student understands the professional environment that they will be working in and what will be expected of them.

This generation, so-called ‘generation Z’, have grown up with social media and often use multiple online channels to stay in touch with friends and family. But social media poses many risks, particularly when it comes to patient confidentiality. Consequently, it is essential that students are fully aware of patient confidentiality and make sure they understand the importance of this issue before starting their work experience placement.

You should ask the student to sign a confidentiality agreement, which states that the student may be sitting in on selected consultations for educational purposes only and that by signing it, they understand that any information they hear or see is strictly confidential and must not be shared or discussed with anyone else.

Informing patients

It is important to let patients know that you have a work experience student on the premises and to give an idea of what they will be doing. You should display an appropriate notice in the practice and consider an online notice as well. This could explain why the practice supports this type of learning experience for students.

If the student will be sitting in on consultations, you should obtain consent from each patient and allow them opportunity to decline.

It is important to confirm their consent when the patient registers at reception on the day of the appointment, and the dental professional who is providing care at that appointment should check once again before the patient enters the treatment room. A note should be made on the patient’s record, indicating that the student was present and that consent was obtained from the patient.

Patients have the right to know who the student is and their level of study so that they can make a fully informed decision about whether they are happy for the student to be present. You should also make clear to the patient that they can withdraw their consent at any time and that if they do, it will not in any way impact on their care.

Cause for complaint

Sometimes complaints do arise from the fact that a work experience student was present. At the DDU, our experience shows that a complaint may happen if a patient feels they have been pressured into saying ‘yes’, particularly if they do not feel they were given sufficient warning and opportunity to fully consider whether they are happy to have the student there. With this in mind, practices should:

  • Always give patients time to consider if they are happy for the student to be present
  • Check again just before the consultation that the patient is definitely happy
  • Make sure there is a written record of the patient’s consent.

For more information on how the DDU can help, visit www.theddu.com, call the dentolegal helpline on
0800 374 626 or email [email protected].