Javeriah Mahmood describes how her role as a clinical fellow at the GDC has changed her views.

I started my role as a clinical fellow at the General Dental Council (GDC) in September last year as part of the chief dental officer’s clinical fellow scheme.

This was created in conjunction with the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management to give dentists the opportunity to work in organisations that govern dentistry in the UK and gain skills in areas such as strategy, policy, leadership and management.

Influencing change

I wanted to apply for the scheme for a number of reasons.

I wanted to learn more about the wider management of dentistry in the UK, which I hoped would lead me to find out how decisions are made, and policies created that affect those of us working in clinical practice.

As well as this, I wanted to know how, as a general dental practitioner, I could influence change on a local and national level.

I graduated from dental school in 2012 around the time that litigation and the number of cases being seen by the fitness to practice team at the GDC had seen a sharp increase.

As with many in the profession, this was something that was constantly on my mind as well as the fear that at any time, I could be on the receiving end of this.

From what I had heard from my colleagues and the dental press, the likelihood of getting sued or ending up in front of a fitness to practice panel was almost a matter of inevitability – when and not if.

The GDC has been implicated as an organisation that has played a significant part in adding to this climate of fear in dentistry.

Having said all of this, joining the GDC was certainly for me going to be a bold choice, but my curiosity about how the organisation was run led me to accept the position.

A leap into the unknown

Before starting the role, the only interactions I had with the GDC were limited to paying my annual retention fee and making sure I kept up to date with my CPD requirements.

I joined not really knowing what to expect.

I had a good understanding of their role as a regulator but had not previously given much thought to the day-to-day running of the organisation.

My role is primarily based with colleagues who work on policy, research, communications, engagement and quality assurance.

The first few weeks were spent meeting various members of the senior team who are responsible for different functions throughout the organisation including fitness to practice and registration.

Through this, I began to gain a better understanding of the current work that is underway, and what became evident to me was that the organisation is undergoing a huge amount of change.

As well as moving a lot of the GDC’s functions to Birmingham, there are many new staff members, quite a few of whom had started not long before me.

The team were welcoming and surprisingly open as I had assumed, I would have much more limited access to the activities within the organisation.

Shifting the Balance

Many of you may have heard about or read their publication, Shifting the Balance (2017) and there is clearly a drive to implement the principles outlined in this document within the organisation.

One of their primary aims is to move away from focusing on addressing and responding to complaints to try and equip dental professionals with the knowledge and skills to prevent them from being raised in the first place – and this is part of what the GDC refers to as ‘moving upstream’.

I think anything that is moving the focus away from reprimand to something which is trying to help dental professionals provide better patient care will be a welcome change, however I am fully aware that the impact of these changes will take some time to filter down to the profession.

Another major piece of work is the overhaul of their fitness to practice process – something that really would contribute to addressing and improving the climate of fear in dentistry.

Although I have heard a lot about the changes that are being made, I have not had much involvement with this in my role here so far.

Some of you may have read about recent changes to this process in the dental press – changes which the profession has been campaigning for, for some time now.

Having spoken to a lot of younger dentists recently, particularly foundation dentists, this is something that they often cite as their biggest cause of worry.

I do hope these changes have a positive impact and that we see the effects of these sooner rather than later.

Dentists’ views

A couple of the main projects I will be working on during my time here include investigating preparedness for practice of new dental graduates and looking at facilitating shared decision making in practice.

However, I also have the opportunity to get involved with various other aspects of the organisation including attending council meetings, getting involved with student and new registrant engagement and attending dental school inspections.

Of the things I hope to achieve in my short time here, one of the most important to me is to make sure that the view of dentists working on the ground is considered.

Sometimes, in practice, it can feel like the policies, regulations and guidelines that we are governed by, have not accounted for the challenges that we face daily and having worked in a busy NHS practice myself, I know first-hand how this can contribute to a stressful working day.

I hope that my role will allow me to portray this perspective effectively, and make a difference towards influencing future work, however small this may be.