Starting out as a foundation dentist
Finbar O’Mahony reflects on his first six months in dental practice and gives advice on overcoming the challenges both in performing the dentistry and dealing with your patients.
During your first six months as a foundation dentist there will be many challenges for you to overcome.
Here is a short list of a few of the challenges I met and hopefully some helpful advice on how to overcome them.
The first and biggest challenge is that you have a complete lack of experience. You may think that you know it all when you leave dental school, but you don’t. The real world of NHS dentistry is not exactly dental school dentistry. This can only be learned by doing it and making a few mistakes along the way. Your foundation trainer will give you a huge hand with the intricacies of NHS dentistry.
Inevitably you will be asked how long you have been qualified during your first six months. Patients assume that if you look young then you don’t know what you are doing. Letting this affect you can be the first mistake you make. Some people ask it in a nice manner, others in a more disagreeable way. You will know which is which when it happens to you. What I was told to say to these people is that you have been practising dentistry for five years in a dental hospital and that you are trained in the latest techniques and materials. Most people can’t say much to this and are usually quite impressed.
For me time management was a huge challenge. It took me a few months to understand what I could get done in certain amounts of time. Trying to keep nurses happy when you’re regularly running late is difficult. Even though you may have no problem working 10 or 15 minutes late yourself, your colleagues may not be so happy. They may have other commitments and you’re preventing this by lack of planning. For the first few months give yourself a little more time than you think you will need and keep your nurse happy and yourself less stressed.
When you receive your first pay cheque, you may think you’re rolling in money. We all made this mistake. Even though your foundation salary is not bad, you certainly will not be rich and do need to plan your finances.
After about two months you will have more of an understanding of your income and outgoings. This is the best time to budget your finances accordingly. Try to avoid making use of your overdraft facility if you can.
The best piece of advice I can give you is to be confident in your own ability. You will not always be 100% confident at the procedures you’re doing. If you need it, get help from your trainer but you will be surprised how often your trainer says you are doing the right thing. Often problems have a habit of working themselves out. I have learned much more from the mistakes that I made in my first six months than I have from years of reading textbooks. As the Nike slogan says “Just do it”. After six months I am still experiencing challenges. Even the most experienced dentist I know meets challenges in everyday practice. This makes dentistry a challenging and rewarding career.
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