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Getting through the VT minefield

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Getting through the VT minefield

Graham Orr Director of Postgraduate GDP Education, North East Scotland

General Dental Practice is an area of work that demands a complex set of skills and knowledge. Vocational Training (VT) in Scotland or Foundation Training (FT) in England and Wales is the established means of developing these skills in newly qualified dentists.

The accepted model of VT/FD is 12 months working under supervision in an approved training practice, alongside an educational programme which includes weekly tutorials and study days.

Since the mid 1990s Dental Foundation Training (DFT) over a two year period has developed and is now widespread.  There are several different models of DFT currently in operation; comprising blocks of experience in various disciplines, or a longitudinal approach where trainees alternate each week between e.g. hospital and general practice posts.  In all DFT models, a year of VT/FD remains the core.

The reason for this is that from October 1993 it has been a requirement to complete VT /FD in order to gain a VT number.  In Scotland, since 2004, assessment of progress and achievement is undertaken, and ‘Satisfactory Completion’ of VT confers eligibility for a VT number.  A VT number is the gateway to a NHS list number, which allows someone to become an associate or a principal in the General Dental Service (GDS) or a Salaried Practitioner in the Salaried Dental Service (SDS).

For more information about all the schemes available, look at the Deaneries’ websites.  A good place to start is the website of the Conference of Postgraduate Dental Deans at

Preparing for Vocational Training
Securing a place in VT/FD (or DFT) is the first major challenge for most new dentists and in itself can be a significant process of personal development as they embark on their journey as a dental professional.

Success in the application process involves a fair amount of extra work for students at a time when full concentration on forthcoming finals examinations is needed.  So a disciplined approach to the process is essential to minimise disruption.

There is plenty of evidence that VDPs FDs don’t stray far from where they qualified.  You might want to stay where you studied and where your friends are – but what about trying somewhere new?

It is worth considering all options. You may want to stay in a city, but perhaps you have not considered what the more rural practices have to offer in terms of lifestyle and clinical experience.  Remember, you can live in a city and commute out (against the heavy traffic) to work in a nearby town or village.

You should also carefully consider which type of practice best suits your needs so that you can make informed choices.  Some practices have more than one trainee and you may be attracted by the prospect of being able to share experiences with a fellow VDP/FD.  Take time to discuss the various options available with your partner or family.

Deaneries act independently of each other in the recruitment of VDPs /FD, and their processes and timelines can vary widely.  Once you have decided on a region where you would like to work, it is essential that you find out about the local Deanery and the way it works.

Although VDPs/ FDs are employed by individual trainers, many Deaneries operate a matching process taking into account both trainers’ and students’ preferences.  If you limit your choices (e.g. geographically to within walking distance of a Dental School, or by not listing the full number of trainers) you may not be matched.  It does not follow that your favourite training practice will have chosen you as their favourite candidate!

Getting a job as a VDP/ FD is a highly competitive process and you should take some time to think about your options.

In order to become a VDP you must both

  •  Be eligible to work in UK, and
  •  Be entitled by registration to practise dentistry in UK

Your dental degree on its own doesn’t allow you to practise dentistry.  Rather it entitles you to apply to GDC for registration as a dentist, and you need to fulfil several other criteria.  Full details are available from GDC at

TIP: GDC registration can take approximately 6 weeks to process, so you should apply at your earliest opportunity. This means having the supporting documents ready to send to GDC, with the fully completed application, on the day you receive your finals results.

Students without automatic entitlement to work in UK (i.e. non-UK, non-EEA students) should seek advice at an early stage from Deaneries, and from the UK Border Agency at

Be prepared!  Although some Deaneries have a pre-application registration process that requires very little information beyond contact details, this is not the application for a training post.  Applications are made directly to trainers.  Often there is a Deanery-wide application form, and usually trainers ask for a CV.

The typical ‘Person Specification’ for a VDP/FD can be met by the majority of applicants, so your CV and other ways you have of presenting yourself are the way you mark yourself out against the rest.  Inevitably, the education, experience and qualifications of most applicants for these posts are almost indistinguishable.  Trainers will look for evidence of ‘transferable skills’ that are represented in e.g. hobbies, sports activities, previous part-time or temporary work, in-course elective periods etc.  If you include these, try to outline how they have benefitted you in preparing for your role as a VDP/ FD.  It may also be useful to mention any specific areas of dentistry you are keen to explore in your career.

TIP: Have a current CV word-processed in a commonly used format (e.g. Office 2003) and also as a portable document (.pdf) if possible.  That way, you are ready to go as soon as the list is published.

For the most popular posts you may need to act very quickly once the list of trainers is published by the Deanery, as some trainers may have a ‘closing date’ within 24 hours, by which time they may have had in excess of 30 applications.

The appearance of your application form and CV, its lack of errors, the personal statement, and the courtesy of your covering e-mail or telephone call can all have a bearing on the likelihood of success.

TIP: In your application use an e-mail address that will continue to work after final exams and up to the point of taking up your training post. Dental School e-mail accounts may not fit the bill.

You will need to provide names of two, or even three, referees.  You should ensure that:
•    You ask their permission to add their names to your CV
•    You do not use family members as referees
•    At least one referee must be able to comment on your clinical ability as a dental student
•    Referees know you sufficiently well to be able to complete the reference on your behalf
•    You give your referees as much notice as possible - a clinician at a Dental School may be a referee for a number of people.

Practice Visits and Interviews
Deaneries tend to operate a defined period during which you will visit practices and may have several interviews.  You should make notes after each practice visit to act as an aide memoire when ranking your choices for any matching process.

TIP: At each visit, think that you could be spending the next year of your life in that practice with the people who work there. You should prepare some questions which will help you to decide whether it is the right place for you!

Research has shown that your interviewer is likely to make up their mind about you within 30 seconds of meeting you.  Trainers will make a note of the way you dress and whether you attend punctually for interview.  Rightly or wrongly, they may assume that you will apply the same attitudes to work.

Before going to interview, it is a good idea to think about what you want from your training year and about the type of environment in which you will perform best.  To help you do this, read the information on Deanery websites and elsewhere very carefully.  Also read the Trainers’ practice profiles, as this might help you focus on areas of interest and questions you could ask when you meet the Trainers.

TIP: Your time will be limited, so think carefully about focussing your efforts on the practices/areas where you are really keen to be.

This is a very competitive process and you should take some time to think about how to set yourself apart from other applicants.  Take advantage of any opportunity you have to practise interview skills.

Once you have completed your interviews, if you are applying to a Deanery where a matching process operates, you will need to submit your preferences in ranked order.

TIP: You must be prepared to work with anyone you put on your list. This does not mean you should only enter one name, but you must be sure that you would be happy to work for any of the trainers on your list.

Taking up your post
After success at interview, or via the matching process, you will receive a conditional offer of a post in VT/ FD.  The offer will only become unconditional once you have passed finals, registered with GDC, and met several other requirements.  Once examination results are announced you need to act quickly to:

  • Contact the trainer to give them your good news
  • Apply to GDC for registration as a dentist
  • Join a Defence Organisation (if you have not already done so already)
  • Contact the Primary Care Trust (Health Board in Scotland and Wales) to apply for inclusion in the list. This will include:
  • CRB Disclosure
  • NHS Superannuation forms
  • Provide original documents to your trainer, and copies to the PCT (HB)
  • A P46 (or P45 if you have one) for Inland Revenue
  • Birth Certificate and/or passport
  • Proof of entitlement to work in UK
  • Proof of health status e.g. Hepatitis B
  • Degree Certificate (or written confirmation from dental school)
  • Certificate of membership of a defence organisation
  • GDC practising certificate
  • Your trainer will require you to sign a contract of employment
  • The Deanery will have an ‘Educational Agreement’ with you

Criminal records disclosure can take many weeks, so it is vital that you enter that system with the same urgency as applying to GDC. You will be required to provide an Enhanced Disclosure and failure to disclose any criminal convictions or cautions may lead to dismissal.  Convictions cannot be regarded as ‘spent’.  VDPs enjoy a two-month period of grace to work while waiting for the disclosure return, but there have been cases where delay has meant a VDP/ FD has had to stop working at the end of September!

TIP: Much can go wrong.  You will wish to take advantage of the break between University and starting VT/ FD for a well-earned break.  But, be available by phone or regular e-mail contact.  Have a trusted relative who can chase after bits of paper if you’re away.

There is much to do, and failure to get through everything can result in you not being able to take up your post on the specified start date.  This will impact on the training practice, may affect the end date for your training period, and could mean your salary is not paid on time!

The transition from final year student to meeting your first patient as a VDP/ FD is the first major challenge in meeting the demands that all professionals face.  A position is not guaranteed, and success in this competitive process is entirely dependent on the way you approach it.

Dental Protection provides a whole range of risk management to support you through your career.
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