When Professor Jan Clarkson was invited two years ago by colleagues in the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) to take on the role of president, she was surprised. Honoured, yes, but surprised and a little dubious too. The BSPD president is effectively chairman, chief executive and figurehead, all rolled into one. An academic and researcher with no patient contact – was she suited for this?
Fortunately, her Scottish colleagues, whose job it was in that year to choose the next president, thought she was very much the right person. They wanted a proactive leader who not only had the authority to speak for all BSPD’s groups and branches but make sure the society was heard.
Since paediatric dentists provide oral health care for children aged from birth to 16, their work is valued by society at large. Doing an important job does not automatically confer influence where it matters. Conversely, paediatric dentists have at times been undervalued and overlooked – although this is changing.
As an example, the BSPD was quick to develop the task group to work on commissioning guidelines on the care pathway, but is still waiting on the Department of Health to deliver the guidelines on commissioning. Furthermore, the specialty is facing worrying numbers of cuts in the community and there has been a tendency within the dental profession to confuse paediatric dentists with special care dentists who treat patients of 16 years of age and over. The BSPD needed a voice and a leader who could champion the specialty the recognition that its patients deserved.
To add some perspective, Jan is no ordinary researcher. She is professor of clinical effectiveness at Dundee University and director at the Scottish Centre of Clinical Effectiveness Programme, and she is a founding member of the Cochrane Oral Health Group and a joint co-ordinating editor. She has come a very long way since she was a dental student at Newcastle Dental School in the early 80s, working as a cleaner in the early mornings to fund her way through her dental degree. For instance, the Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme guidelines are now used by most universities in the UK.
She is very proud that when she was a young dentist, the BSPD was one of the first societies to embrace the concept of clinical guidelines. She is in no doubt that this inspired her future career.
Jan has just completed her presidential year and it’s clear that she has she has lived up to expectations. Among her achievements are:
- Supporting the development of a robust research agenda, a closer link with the Cochrane Oral Health Collaboration and ensuring clinical guidelines are at the heart of the BSPD’s activities
- Completing the transition to a permanent home at the Royal College of Surgeons where one of the in-house administrators provides the BSPD with part-time support
- Overseeing the appointment of the BSPD’s honorary secretary, Claire Stevens, as part-time media spokeswoman supported by an external PR consultant.
Perhaps the most welcome development has been a meeting with England’s CDO, Barry Cockcroft, with further meetings planned with the CDOs in Wales, and Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Barry Cockcroft’s positive response to the delegation from the BSPD and his commitment to continue engaging with the society has been warmly welcomed by Jan who believes that collaborative working must be the way forward.
She has come to realise that her abilities as a researcher can translate into leadership skills. She said: ‘Hopefully what I have contributed is efficiency and speed in decision-making and this is a direct translation of what I do as a researcher.’
She added: ‘Research is not going to get out into practice unless people change their awareness of what is best practice and I am mindful of that in my working life. I have put the theory of research into practice within the BSPD.’
She believes passionately that research should only be applied in the appropriate circumstances. ‘We know so much more today but knowledge does not equate to change. Not only do we not understand patients’ behaviour, we don’t understand clinicians’ behaviour either. It’s only when we can bring about a change in behaviour of all participants that children will benefit from evidence-based practise.’
Jan says she has thoroughly enjoyed her year as president and seeing the change that has taken place: ‘There is a real energy about the society and there is a huge amount happening and the thing I am really pleased about is the recognition that the society has a voice and, more importantly, people want to hear it.’