Should I specialise?
After graduating from dental school, I had not anticipated the number of decisions I would have to make about my career. Do I apply for a hospital post or go straight into practice? Are postgraduate qualifications really necessary? How do I choose between the MJDF and MFDS, or maybe I should do both? Do I need to specialise? If I decide to specialise, what specialty would I be most suited to?
The concept of graduating and then hiding away in your dental surgery for the rest of your working life is no longer a realistic proposition for the young dentist! Professional development may not be as easy as it sounds. In fact, the consensus amongst most young dentists is that there is currently very little guidance on career pathways.
Difficulty in finding an associate position adds to the problem; a struggle to find a job would not even have crossed our minds when applying to dental school! No job and little guidance often mean that specialty training is considered as a final resort to help ‘pass time’ when nothing else is available. The fundamental and most important question – ‘should I specialise?’ – is often overlooked, when this is in fact the most important matter. Before making any other decisions, it is imperative that this question is fully explored. There are a number of key considerations that need to be contemplated upon when making this decision.
What is right for you
Becoming a specialist allows a dentist to focus their career on a chosen field of dentistry. So the first consideration should be whether or not you want to home in on one particular area. Is there a specialty that really excites you that you can imagine yourself practising for most of your working time? Do you feel you have an aptitude for a certain specialty? Or perhaps as a specialist you would hope to have the resources to provide the highest standard of advanced care? If you are happy with the level and variety of care you can provide as a general practitioner and enjoy that mix, then specialising may not be the right choice for you.
The second consideration is financial. If you decide to do a specialty training programme is likely to be is the most expensive career investment you make. Course fees are approximately £11,000 for part-time programmes and can range from £15,000 to £54,000 for full-time programmes; that’s the yearly fee so don’t forget to multiply these figures by three or four as the full-time course usually runs over three years and the part-time course over four years! Therefore it’s clear to see that if you decided to complete a full-time programme, you would need a significant amount of savings or a loan of some sort.
If you were working part-time you would either need the former or would have to ensure that you are earning enough to pay the fees. Importantly, the loss of earnings over the course period needs to be accounted for. A simple example calculation will bring to light the significance of this loss: Most young dentists would hope to complete around 6,000 UDAs per annum. If the value of these UDAs is £10, this gives you an annual gross of £60,000. If you decide to specialise and work part-time, you need to give half of this up, that’s £30,000 per year. This is, in effect, more expensive than the actual course! On top of the course fees and loss of earnings, don’t forget to add the expense of purchasing any books or additional instruments and equipment that may be required.
Another important consideration when deciding on pursuing specialty training is whether or not you are able to make that personal sacrifice. Specialty training is not an easy ride and requires hard work, drive and determination. It will change your work-life balance; this essentially means that a lot of your previous free time will be dedicated to self-learning. Of course there is also the stress of exams and projects that comes with this too. It will be like going back to dental school and you’ll need to get those revision cards out again and start sticking to deadlines – some people don’t mind the idea of this, others will detest it with a vengeance!
Stop and think
Going down a specialty-training route is an exciting journey (well it definitely has been for me so far) and no doubt it will be a rewarding career once you are qualified as a specialist. However, the process of specialising needs to be considered first. It is important to take a step back and first ask yourself the question – ‘should I specialise?’ If you are extremely enthusiastic about a particular subject; regularly read the specialty journals; invested in specific instruments or often admired other specialists around you, hoping that one day your lifestyle will be the same, then those may just be the clues to give you that extra push once you’ve accounted for all the other considerations!