The DFT guide to coming out the other side of COVID-19

Lorna Gladwin explains how dental foundation trainees (DFTs) can make the most out of the current COVID-19 lockdown.

COVID-19 causes chaos

Recent dental graduates up and down the country have faced significant changes to their training programmes. Dental foundation trainees had been in their first dental jobs learning the ropes as a general dental practitioner for around seven months until the pandemic hit the UK.

COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on the world as we know it, and dentistry is no exception to that. With all routine dentistry ceasing due to a lack of PPE, high risk aerosol generating procedures along with social distancing, trainees are finding they have ‘downed drills’, with uncertainty as to when they will pick them back up.

Dental foundation ‘training’ to ‘triaging’

Understandably this will disappoint many trainees. We had overcome the first few daunting months of being slow and apprehensive about treating patients. Most of us had began to become very confident building on our clinical skills every day.

However, it’s important to recognise that we have not stopped developing as clinicians. We will now simply develop a unique skill set that will undoubtedly benefit us in the future. Most trainees are working in roles conducting remote triage from their practices. This tests key communication and diagnostic skills, along with appropriate prescribing and effective advice.

Others are re-deploying into helping triage via 111, working in urgent dental care centres, and even to the front line in some Nightingale hospitals. Whilst these may not be the roles we expect to carry out at the commencement of DFT, the unprecedented event is forcing us all to very quickly adapt to new roles and demands. All whilst keeping up-to-date with ever-changing guidelines and protocols.

What about future employability?

With the question of when we will return to ‘normality’ un-answerable, foundation dentists do not know if they will complete any more of their training year. With only seven out of 12 months complete, the worry for many of us is how this will affect our future employability. Post DFT the most common paths of career progression are either entering an associate job, or starting a dental core training role.

There has been significant disruption to the DCT recruitment process that was scheduled to take place imminently. However, due to lockdown, all face to face recruitment is cancelled. Earlier this week after a long anxious wait, all DCT applicants received an email stating recruitment is now solely based on a remote situational judgement test (SJT). Disappointment was felt among many of us over this, with the face to face aspect removed, only the objective online test remains. This is a disadvantage to anyone who excels in the communication and rapport aspects of the interview. It no longer plays a role in where you will lie among national ranking, and ultimately where you place for your DCT year.

It does, on the other hand, mean that Health Education England are keen to continue with the recruitment process. Hopefully this gets trainees into their new roles come September. A relief for many of us who were unsure what September may bring. Whilst it isn’t the ideal recruitment process, there are still ways that the SJT can prepare for including online resources and both medical and dental practice books.

How to compensate for lost time

Something almost every dental student will tell you is that one luxury they have never had was time. With constant deadlines, examinations, projects and clinics, having spare time was something of a fantasy. This is the perfect time to show how determined and proactive you are, things future employers will look for.

Try and think of the things you would carry out now if you were in practice. For example complex treatment planning or crown and bridge work; find other ways to expand your clinical knowledge in these areas. This could be completing online CPD, reading those textbooks you never got through, or getting involved with webinars. You can also use the time to write up clinical cases you have completed so far in practice with photographs to evidence your work. These look good on a portfolio and can also be used for case based discussion with your ES.

Increase employability and boost your CV

There are so many things we can all do right now to improve how attractive we appear to our future employers. It’s important that instead of sitting and worrying about what this lost training time may mean for our futures, we use it to our advantage.

Here are some good places to start:

1. Your unique selling point

Not all of this situation is a disadvantage to us. The experience will allow you to very quickly adapt, and develop a new set of skills for the future. Don’t be afraid to think of this as your USP! No other DFTs have been through this, and it’s unlikely that any in the future will. This sets you apart from others, use it to your advantage.

2. Look at the gaps in your CV

Dentists should be ‘holistic’ and rounded individuals. A CV should demonstrate your work ethic in clinical experience, but also voluntary roles, clinical governance, teaching, prizes and anything else that shows you are engaging with the wider dental community.

When looking at what may be attractive on your CV, it’s important to consider what career path you may like to follow. This will allow you to focus your CV for a potential employer. What a specialist training pathway may be looking for will differ from a practice principal.

3. Network

Whilst everyone is apart, it’s important we all come together. Don’t isolate yourself, get engaged with the dental community. There are so many brilliant clinicians offering free webinars and advice right now. Keep in contact with your ES, TPD and scheme, help each other through this experience.

Make connections, you never know when they may help you in the future. Whether this be with advice, a job or a patient!

4. Keep a log

Log the things you are doing in lockdown. Show your engagement and commitment during this period. It will benefit you in the long run when you may be required to evidence how you spent your time, or as a talking point at interviews. It’s also a nice way to see all the little bits you are doing add up!

With uncertainty around us about a lot of things right now, I am certain we can all get through this and come out of the other side as experienced, rounded and confident clinicians with experience in many new ways!