Clutching onto the results paper and reading my grades over and over, I was thrilled that I was leaving school with 9 GCSEs. But it suddenly hit me: I was now an adult and my journey was just about to begin.
I was happy that the days of sitting in a classroom five days a week were over, but I was completely overwhelmed with the options for what I could do after leaving school. My parents were keen for me to progress onto sixth form, but I knew that formal education wasn't the pathway I wanted to take. I wanted a more 'hands-on approach' to building a career and I started to look into apprenticeships available within my area.
I had received orthodontic treatment in my earlier teenage years and was intrigued by dentistry. I started to look at dental nursing apprenticeships. I spoke to my local college they put me in touch with a practice who were currently recruiting for a trainee dental nurse. After a successful interview I was offered a position at the practice, and started my journey as a dental nurse. Little did I know how much I would progress over the next few years.
During my first few days at the practice, I was overwhelmed by the number of things I needed to learn. I remember thinking: "What is a bridge? What is alginate?" – things that are now everyday terminology. With the support of my colleagues and the team at my local college where I was completing my apprenticeship, I quickly started to learn and develop. I was working in surgery regularly and picking up new skills. With the support I was receiving I soon started to feel confident and comfortable working in a busy dental surgery assisting with general dental procedures. I soon passed my dental exam and completed my dental nursing apprenticeship.
After qualifying I moved to a practice closer to home. Working at this practice helped me to develop my skills even further. The practice was a one-surgery fully private practice. It had a welcoming family atmosphere and I was happy that I was guaranteed to work in surgery full time. My skills developed and I was learning more and gaining experience in private dental procedures. This included assisting with more complex minor oral surgery procedures and implants. I was content that even though I was a qualified dental nurse I was still learning so many new skills on a regular basis. I was thoroughly enjoying my job. However, the journey unfortunately came to the end of the road. The principal dentist informed me that he was retiring and that the practice was being sold to a newly qualified dentist. I was upset with the prospect of change, especially as I loved my job. However, I didn’t know then how much more this would allow me to develop.
After a couple of months, the practice was refurbished and rebranded. It was now a vibrant and trendy private practice and the services available to patients started to evolve. I continued to work as a dental nurse at the practice. However, after a few months my strong organisational skills were identified and this allowed me to undertake more duties. The practice employed a trainee dental nurse and I supported and encouraged her through her training. I was delighted that I could use my skills to help someone else embark upon a new journey. I also continued to develop and soon became the DICL for the practice. This involved me overseeing the decontamination processes and ensuring that we were compliant with HTM 01 05. I also started to become more involved with the administrative side of the business and overseeing the ordering, invoicing and compliance at the practice. My biggest achievement within this role was gaining the BDA Good Practice Scheme for the business. Although working on administrative tasks I was still keen to keep developing my clinical skills and I was trained up in dental photography. This involved me taking intra-oral, extra-oral and portrait shots of patients undergoing extensive treatment. I also completed an impression-taking course and together these two new skills helped form my new role as the treatment co-ordinator for the practice. As a treatment co-ordinator I held consultations with patients to discuss their treatment requirements and options. I was also able to take impressions for study models and photographs to help create treatments plans for patients.
Even though I had progressed so much over a period of five years I was keen to develop further and continue with my career journey. I had always had an interest in helping others to develop and after successfully training up a dental nurse I researched how to become an assessor and tutor. I was very fortunate to be offered a role as a trainee dental nurse assessor and tutor with a local training provider. Although I was excited, I was also worried about becoming a trainee again. It felt daunting to go from feeling so comfortable in my current role to feeling completely out of my depth. The only reassurance I felt was that I had the knowledge and foundations of dental nursing behind me, and that from this I could only grow further.
After several months of becoming a dental nurse assessor and tutor I was beginning to feel settled in my new role. I had started to attend college in the evenings to gain my Assessing qualification and my PTLLS (Preparing for Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector) qualification. I was once again working within a very supportive team who were keen for me to develop and were always on hand to help me. Over the past four years I have continued to work within the education sector and my job role is now very different to when I first started out in dentistry. My job role includes travelling around to dental practices and visiting trainee dental nurses who are at the beginning of their journey. I hold tutorials with learners to develop their skills and knowledge, help them to prepare a portfolio of evidence and prepare them for their dental nursing exams. I also observe the students in surgery and provide them with feedback as to how they can improve and develop further.
I find working as a dental nurse tutor and assessor highly rewarding. There is nothing more satisfying than meeting a shy and inexperienced trainee dental nurse, and then over the next year seeing that person grow into a competent individual with high expectations for their future journey. It also fulfilling to meet up with these learners once they have qualified to see that they are progressing on their own journey and challenging themselves to move up the career ladder.
From my very first day in dentistry to the current day I have not stopped progressing and learning, and I know that this will continue throughout the rest of my journey. There are so many career options available in the dental and health care sector, and becoming a dental nurse is a great foundation to develop your skills and progress further.
Written By Emma Thornton, RDN