So, you want to be a dentist?

A unique event brought school pupils together with leading practitioners to explore careers in dentistry

In a first for Ireland, the Faculty of Dentistry of the Royal College of Surgeons (FoDRCSI) partnered with the three dental schools of Queens University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork earlier this year to host a post-primary careers day – ‘So, you want to be a dentist?’ – at St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

Teachers from the four institutions presented information to secondary school students on undergraduate and postgraduate dental training opportunities available to those wishing to pursue a career as a dentist. Developed by the Faculty of Dentistry in collaboration with the three schools, the students – transition, 5th and 6th years – had an opportunity to learn more about the science and art of dentistry.

Students had the chance to speak with senior academic staff, consultants and specialists from different sectors of the dental profession, as well as current undergraduate and postgraduate students. Admissions teams were on hand to explain the entry requirements for each course offered.

Keynote speakers included Dr Nuala Carney, Professor Brian O’Connell, of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Christine McCreary, of University College Cork, and Professor Donald Burden, of Queen’s University, Belfast.

The students were also given first-hand experience of what it might be like to work in dentistry, with interactive ‘stations’ that they could visit. They included sessions on dental extraction, with Joanna Smyth and Jamie Toole; digital dentistry, with Anne Gunderman and Paul Quinlan; endodontics, with Pat Cleary and Joanie Glennon; taking impressions (Eddie Cotter and Gerry Cleary); medical emergencies (Kumara Ekayanake and Jenny Kearns); orthodontics (Kieran Daly); paediatric dentistry (Dympna Daly); radiology (Andrew Bolas); suturing (Sean Sheridan and Kate Farrell); and oral pathology (Séamus Napier).

The FoDRCSI is responsible for the accreditation of postgraduate dentists through examination, as well as providing postgraduate education to more than 2,000 members worldwide. While the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) does not presently have a dental school, the FoDRCSI recognises its responsibility for public engagement to attract and retain a new generation of dentists to manage the future needs of our patients in Ireland and beyond.

“We take our role in dental education and our responsibility to the public – and to those who are thinking of becoming a dentist – very seriously,” said Dr John Marley, Dean of the Faculty of Dentistry RCSI. He told the students: “We think today is an excellent opportunity for you to learn about the science and art of dentistry and the possible careers you might choose to have as a dentist in the future. That future may seem a long way off, but this is the beginning of your journey as you try to decide on what you want to do.” Kenneth Mealy, the RCSI’s president, added: “Dentistry offers wonderful opportunities in terms of personal development and intellectual stimulation. If you choose dentistry as a career, with advances in technology and in particular material sciences, there will be quite dramatic changes in how we manage health and in particular dentistry over the coming years.

If you want a career that’s going to challenge you intellectually for the rest of your life, that will give you great personal satisfaction, if you enjoy working in teams, if you enjoy people, dentistry offers you a great career.”

The opening keynote was presented by Dr Nuala Carney, who described her route into general practice as “not exactly typical”. After graduating from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), she worked in New Zealand for two years before returning to work in Dublin Dental Hospital as a house officer and registrar.

After gaining her postgraduate Fellowship in Dental Surgery (FFD) from RCSI, Dr Carney then spent two years working in India on a dental therapist training programme with a UK charity. It had a profound impact on her approach to dentistry and confirmed her belief in the absolute necessity for prevention as a basis for all care. Today, as well as working in general practice, Dr Carney is a part-time clinical supervisor at the dental school TCD.

On graduating, Dr Carney told the students they would be faced with a decision; whether to stay in a hospital setting or go into general practice. The former would allow for more training and the opportunity to work in a range of specialisms. But positions are limited and the pay a little lower. Choosing general practice means better pay, but also the ‘real-world’ challenge of working with a small team and as part of a small business. For Dr Carney, the opportunities to practice abroad – in New Zealand and India – provided both relief from hard study and challenging exams and an opportunity to explore her interest in public health. She joined a charity running a project to train dental therapists in Tibet, in the northern Himalayan town of Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama.

“We did a lot of prevention work in schools, and we worked with mothers and their babies in the hospitals. There was a lot of epidemiology and I would work with the trainees,” she said. “It really changed my perspective on dentistry; I became absolutely focused on prevention being at the core of what we do.”

At the end of the project, Dr Carney returned to Ireland. “I was still not sure about what I should do. So I talked to a lot of people and I was given various pieces of advice, but the one that stuck with me at the time was: ‘You should go off and be an excellent general practitioner’. To be honest, I had never really thought of the words ‘excellence’ and ‘general practitioner’ in the same sentence because I was a bit of a dental snob!

“It really changed my perspective on dentistry; I became absolutely focused on prevention as being at the core of what we do”

Dr Nuala Carney

“So this was really a golden nugget of insight because I realised that if you seek excellence in whatever you do, that is what will give you fulfilment and pride in your work. And to my eternal good luck at that time, Dr Patrick Crotty, who is excellence in dentistry personified, was looking for an associate. And that’s where I went, and I found my dental home, as I call it. What you’ll find is that if you work in a really positive team that supports each other, that is really a sign of a good quality practice.” Professor Brian O’Connell added: “Teamwork is increasingly important in dentistry; we don’t work in isolation any more.”

He told the students that “it’s important that you think of dentistry as being health oriented, rather than just something that’s superficial; we’re helping people to improve their oral health and, indeed, their general health.

“And I think one of the advantages of the time we’re living in now is the flexible working conditions and working environment. In many cases you can choose for yourself how and where you want to work and practice and it can be very rewarding, I think, both intellectually and financially. So if you’d like to see people smile, this is perhaps the job for you.”

Published: 11 March, 2020 at 12:39
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