Sophie, you’re currently studying Oral Health Science at the University of Essex and are now in your second year. You finished your first year with an amazing result and earned yourself a place on the Dean’s list of academic excellence. Congratulations! You were a head dental nurse in a practice in London for seven years before applying for dental hygiene, so this interview will be asking some questions to inspire those who are thinking about a career as a dental hygienist – the aim is to get them thinking about what sorts of things they may need to do to get to that point. We want to know all about what made you choose this career and how you started on the path towards it.
Firstly, how did you get into dentistry?
I was interested in dentistry from a very young age. Looking after my teeth and gums was a high priority for me because I saw family members lose teeth and knew I didn’t want to experience the same. My best friend’s sister was the head dental nurse at a practice where they have their own education centre, and they employ fifteen trainees every year. After realising this was the field I wanted to work in, I applied – and I was lucky enough to get in!
So, after working as a dental nurse, what made you decide that you wanted to become a dental hygienist?
I was working as a head dental nurse in practice for a few years, and I absolutely loved interacting and engaging with the patients. As a dental nurse, I felt limited in this area and didn’t really have as much face-to-face interaction with the patients as I would have liked. It was in that realisation that I decided that I would love to have my own patients and that a role as a dental hygienist would be perfect.
I like the fact that dental hygiene is becoming better understood as one of the fundamental roles in dentistry, so being a part of that along with the prospect of motivating patients is exciting.
Dental hygiene is a role with a little more responsibility. For others who may be thinking of going in the same direction, what qualifications did you have when you went to apply?
I had twelve GCSEs and an NVQ Level 3 in Dental Nursing, and I had completed the OHE course.
Although we know you were successful at the University of Essex, did you apply to any other universities?
A lot of universities require A-Levels or multiple post-nursing qualifications (such as radiography and OHE). As I had the NVQ, the OHE course and my years of experience, I first applied to the Eastman and Kings College, both in London. I didn’t get an interview for either of those, so applied for Essex the following year… and here we are!
I would recommend making sure you look at the different university websites or call the application teams to ensure you have the qualifications they are looking for.
I’m assuming you used UCAS to apply for the course at Essex. How did you find the application process?
Yes, I did use UCAS. It was easy enough, but I did find that having some help from previous students from the university and course helped when it came to writing my personal statement and knowing what the course was about. It might help to add some qualifications or activities that will make you stand out in your application. They have a lot of applicants each year, so it is worth giving your personal statement that little bit extra!
The University of Essex holds interviews for potential applicants – I had one myself! Preparation is key, but how did you prepare for the interview?
I made sure to read about the subject, the course and the university. I looked at the scope of practice for a dental hygienist and the GDC standards. You must be sure it’s the right course and direction for you, as there are so many areas you can move to in dentistry. Hygiene was perfect for me.
I know it can take a few attempts to get onto the course. Did you get in the first time you applied? How did you feel after finding out that you’d got a place at the University of Essex?
Yes, I did get in the first time, thankfully! When I found out I’d got a place, I screamed! I was so happy – it was the most amazing feeling. I was so surprised that I had got in first time and had fully prepared myself to apply a few times before I was offered a place. I’m very lucky and so grateful to have been offered a place first time. So, don’t go in to it thinking you won’t get in – try your best, and anything could happen.
It’s been over a year since you started. How have you been finding the course?
Overall, it’s been great, although some areas have been more difficult than others, especially around exam time. I’ve also made some friends for life and the lecturers are great at what they do – I’ve learnt so much. Everyone is so supportive and motivates you to do your best.
You’ll be qualified in 10 months! Where do you see your future taking you after qualification?
I thought I would like to work in a purely private practice, but after being on placement in a very busy NHS practice, I like the idea of both. I’m also interested in direct access and maybe owning my own practice in the future! I will also investigate courses so that I can do whitening and potentially facial aesthetics, which I find interesting.
To finish off, is there any advice that you’d give to aspiring dental hygienists who are thinking of applying for a course?
I’d recommend going to open days at your preferred universities to get a feel for the place you want to go to and find out more about the course. Read around the subject and gain as much information as possible, as this helps in interviews. If you don’t get in first time, don’t give up! Keep going and stay focused. It’s a very competitive course, and if you want it that much you will keep going!
Interviewed by Tiffani Hutchinson RDN