One life change leads to another
In the second of our two-part series focusing on recently qualified dentists, we talk to Marc Harrington of Belfast whose decision to join the profession was sparked by seeing how dentistry made life infinitely better for a member of his family
Words: Stewart McRobert
When Marc Harrington witnessed the massive boost in his mother’s self-confidence after she was fitted with dental implants, it was the turning point in his own life; soon after, he decided to become a dentist.
As Marc explained, his mum’s dental treatment came when he was at a personal crossroads. “I was in my mid-twenties and re-evaluating my career as a designer and programmer in IT. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in that field or take up something completely different.
“My mum had recently lost her upper teeth and was struggling with dentures. She decided to get implants. That changed her whole perspective and increased her self-confidence. In turn, that inspired me to look at dentistry and the way it can transform people’s lives. Before long, I took some night classes to gain a couple of science A levels and then, in 2012, I enrolled in the dentistry course at Queen’s University, Belfast.”
His mum’s new outlook wasn’t the only factor in his choice. “I had a bit of an artistic background and really missed working with my hands. And I was keen to be working with the public.”
The fact that he lived in Newtonabbey on the outskirts of Belfast, was a little older than the average students (he’s now 34) and was in a settled, long-term relationship meant that location was key when Marc opted for Queen’s.
“I did a lot of research, applied for a number of universities and received several offers. However, all of Queen’s’ plus points, including its excellent reputation, made it the obvious choice.”
Despite the age difference with his classmates, Marc says he loved being back at university. It felt like he was part of a strong community with a great many determined young individuals and approachable staff. Equally important, there were opportunities to build extra skills and talents.
“I was involved in summer studentships, working on app development – I was able to combine my old IT skills with dentistry. I also placed second in a national clinical skills competition.”
Marc had gained his degree in multimedia design at the University of Ulster and he noticed a significant difference between the two undergraduate experiences. “Dentistry is more structured – it needs to be in terms of the General Dental Council requirements for a very specific curriculum.
“Also, there’s a major difference in the number of hours you spend at university. With an IT degree you have quite a bit of independent learning time. With dentistry it feels much more like a full-time job. Of course, the five-year course is longer too, but the rewards are worth it.”
He particularly relished the practical elements of the course. “I enjoyed it when we started to work with patients – there’s no greater satisfaction than getting the chance to help people. The focus on anatomy and opportunity to work with a real cadaver was also a great privilege and gave me a real feel for working on the body.”
Needless to say, there were one or two drawbacks in returning to full-time education. His friends of the same age were busy enjoying a full social life. However, the focus on exams meant he occasionally had to miss out.
As qualification neared there were two aspects of dentistry that increasingly appealed to Marc – restorative work and oral surgery. “As time goes on I feel I get more satisfaction from rebuilding rather than removing so I’m swaying towards restorative work.”
Over the past year Marc has been working in the Dental Foundation Training (DFT) programme. He gained a place at a practice in Carrickfergus where he says he has gained lots of experience with a very talented team. He has also completed Part 1, Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery (MFDS).
In September, he started dental core training in Belfast focusing on restorative work. “It was a tough decision to decide between oral surgery and restorative,” he said. “Time will tell if I’ve made the right choice.
“You get great satisfaction from helping to transform people’s lives”
“I’m very interested in toothwear cases and composites, as well as digital smile design, implants and emerging technology such as 3D scanning and printing. It’s very exciting how dentistry and the digital world are merging even closer.”
Reflecting on his decision to switch careers, Marc admitted there are times when dentistry can be stressful. “On some days it’s easy to question why you chose the profession, but you get great satisfaction from helping to transform people’s lives.”
Almost since day one of his dental career, Marc has established a habit of picking up awards and prizes. Recently, as part of his DFT year he was recognised for his skill in case presentation. He explained: “People in the programme are asked to provide a summation of a case that shows a variety of skills, or one they are particularly proud of. I focused on a case involving a patient who had significant tooth surface loss.
I built up the anterior teeth with composites, replaced routine fillings and placed a bridge. A panel of experienced dentists considered the submissions and mine was selected as the winning case.”
The award was arranged by the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA), and, as well as a cash prize of £250, Marc received one year’s free membership of the Faculty of General Dental Practitioners (UK).
This success followed on from an award-winning student career. While at Queen’s, Marc won prizes in third, fourth and fifth year in topics ranging from systemic disease and dentistry to oral surgery.