During the past few issues Starting Out has been covering all of the different career pathways open to students and recent graduates within the dental profession. Many people mistakenly believe that becoming a dentist limits your career options, however, as we have discovered, there are many different avenues to explore.
We have looked at a dental careers within the hospital and community systems, in academia, the armed forces, the corporate world and general practice, however a life of clinical work isn’t the only option available to you as you begin your career.
Indeed, there are many other areas that experienced and non-experienced dentists diversify into for a variety of reasons. Maybe it is because during your training you discovered that clinical work wasn’t for you or maybe you are determined to shake up your career by spending a couple of days a week doing non-clinical work. Whatever your reasons, there is much to explore for those who are determined.
One of the options you may want to consider is dental journalism. Now, I may be doing myself out of a job here, but if you feel that you have a flair for writing and the technical knowledge to back it up then this could be a good option. If you look at many of the dental publications on the market, they will have staff who have been – or still are – dentists, and if you look a little wider to medical publishing as a whole and there are lots of opportunities, from writing patient information content for the NHS website to working as a news editor on a dental journal. If you decide to follow this pathway, it is essential that you take it seriously and put as much preparation into it as possible. Here, we give you a few pointers to get you started:
• Don’t be under any illusions – journalism is an incredibly competitive and crowded area to choose as a career. Many people who are already working as journalists will have trained at university on a related course, so will have more writing experience to get them started. However, on the plus side they may be lacking in the technical knowledge that gives you the edge. Make the most of this and if you get the odd knock-back, remember that this is your most valuable asset.
• Are you prepared to earn considerably less than your colleagues from dental school? If the answer is ‘no’, stop reading now. Journalism isn’t a highly paid profession unless you are at the top of the game, but you will find many journalists choose the life because they genuinely get a lot out of the job. Of course you may be one of the lucky ones who gets to combine life in practice as a dentist with a regular column or editing work for a dental journal, which will ensure you sustain as good a salary as many of your peers. However, in truth, these jobs are rare and require a great deal of talent and experience, as well as a flair for networking.
• If you want to devote your career to dental journalism, the first thing to do is brush up on your writing skills. Although you may have been required to write essays
during your time at dental school, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your spelling and grammar is up to scratch. In fact, it almost certainly isn’t – even seasoned journalists make mistakes sometimes, so it is a good idea to spend some time studying any troublesome words.
• Look into extra training opportunities. There are many full-time and part-time courses for budding journalists that will give you a well-rounded experience of what this type of job is all about. Even if you are intending to specialise in dentistry, it is well worth investing the time and money in such courses. You never know, you could change direction completely and within a couple of years find yourself writing a showbiz gossip column for the News of the World.
• Read as much as you can. You will find many journalists spend a great deal of time poring over papers and magazines. Reading keeps you to date with current issues in your field, gets your creative juices flowing and helps you to identify different writing styles that you like. You may discover that you are a budding A.A. Gill or maybe a Polly Toynbee? Whoever you enjoy, reading can be a source of inspiration for your own work.
• Work experience is worth its weight in gold. If you can afford to do it, do as much as you can. It will give you precious cuttings you can use when you go to interviews or talk to editors and it will give you the confidence to develop your own style.
• Cultivate contacts. Make sure you know who is who within the dental press and then introduce yourself. It is best to do this via email as many editors are simply too busy to speak to every trainee journalist over the phone. Outline your experience, come up with a couple of killer story ideas and ask if they would like to discuss it further. They may not have the budget to commission you or have a position available at that time, but they may just remember you for next time.