A couple of years ago, my boss started looking into the idea of employing apprentice dental nurses. As we are a specialist practice which offers a high standard of training to general dental practitioners, he wanted to ensure that we were providing the same high standard of training to nurses.
Employing apprentice dental nurses would mean that we had well-trained dental nurses at our practice, and it would also mean that any apprentices who did not stay with us after completing their qualification should be able to find future employment easily, as they would take the good reputation of the practice with them. As I have always been interested in teaching, I took on the management of this project. I was keen to pursue courses which would help me perform my new role to the best of my ability, so I began looking into teaching courses.
At first, I began looking at courses specifically for becoming a dental nursing tutor. I did this because I felt that as well as learning how to teach, I would need to revise some of the topics covered in the City and Guilds Level 3 course that our apprentices would be doing. It had been quite a few years since I had qualified, and the course I had taken at that time was the National Certificate in Dental Nursing. I felt that this might have provided less depth than the new courses being offered. Whilst our CPD requirements ensure that we are up-to-date with our knowledge, I felt that I would benefit from some extra guidance to be able to teach this.
However, I struggled to find any courses focusing on how to teach dental nurses. I therefore moved on to consider other teaching qualifications. I looked first at a Level 3 Certificate in Education and Training, but I felt that I would find this too easy. As the dental nursing course is now taught as a Level 3 course, I felt that this would be more of a sideways move for me rather than an advancement and would not develop my career in the way I was hoping. Instead, I opted for the Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training, as I felt I would benefit more from it. Both courses were part-time courses taught one evening per week, and both ran for one academic year. I enjoyed the Level 4 course greatly and decided that I would like to progress to the Level 5 course. This course (which I am currently completing) is also taught one evening per week but lasts for two academic years.
Both the Level 4 and Level 5 courses that I have undertaken are assessed by assignments, a portfolio, and observations. There are no exams on either of these courses. To be able to complete the assignments, you will need to have a good standard of English and be confident in writing. All assignments have a word count which must be adhered to, and a reference list must be included. The assignments are much more intense on the Level 5 course, and a wider range of reading materials should be evidenced.
How to find a local college
Finding a place to study should not be a problem. Teacher training courses are widely available at colleges and universities. An internet search will give you the names of colleges and universities near you, and most of their sites are user-friendly and easy to navigate. Course details are usually listed along with fees and contact details in case you require more information. Some centres will have open days that you can attend if you prefer speaking with someone face to face.
If you find that there are many places to study near you, do look at what each has to offer. Some colleges will have direct links with universities, and university libraries have a much wider variety of resources available to help you with your studies. The college I am attending for my Level 5 course is one of these, and I would struggle with the reading lists if I did not have access to the university library. Most centres will have a study coach who you can turn to if you feel you need extra support with part of your course, so if you are worried about the assignment-writing component of your course, or if you feel your English could do with some improvement, you are likely to find it a great help to work with a study coach.
When applying for both the Level 4 and Level 5 courses, I had to attend an interview. This allows you and your tutors to assess whether this really is the right course for you and will give you the confidence to get started. However, do not be disheartened if they feel you have applied for the wrong course, as they will know the other options available to you and will be able to get you started on the right one.
If you are looking to become a tutor in the same way I was, your main career option is likely to be to remain at your current place of employment and split your time between dental nursing and training. If your employer plans to build on the teaching side of the business, this could mean decreasing your time as a dental nurse and increasing your teaching time. This is a great way to teach without losing your nursing skills (which might happen if you were to teach full-time).
You should aim to build good relationships with the college that your learners attend in order to help your learners, but an additional benefit is that this might also lead to employment with them if you want to pursue that path. You could have an opportunity to begin a career in full-time teaching through a college, depending on the dental nursing courses they run.
You may find that you would like to remain as a dental nurse for your main role whilst utilising your new skills by working for another company (such as Dental Nurse Network) and assisting them with providing training courses. There could also be opportunities through Dental Nurse Network and similar companies to write articles or answer questions sent in by other nurses or trainees. You could also go on to complete an assessors’ course and spend some time assessing apprentices rather than teaching if you find that there are limited teaching opportunities in your area.
Teaching is difficult and time-consuming, but it is greatly rewarding, and you can form some new friendships along the way. So remember to enjoy your studies and to talk to other members of your course to gain and share ideas. They can be a valuable resource – and can have some very entertaining stories!
Katie Booth RDN