This article aims to give you an overview of my career so far and an idea of what to expect on various courses that are available to dental nurses should they want to further their own careers.
Firstly, I should tell you a little about myself. I began my career in dentistry in March 2006 in a small practice with just one dentist and hygienist. Since then a lot has changed!
I now work in a specialist practice with a large number of staff, offering treatments such as specialist endodontics, periodontal treatment, orthodontics and implants. During my career I have taken the following qualifications:
- The National Certificate in Dental Nursing;
- Oral Health Promotion;
- Oral Health Education;
- Dental Radiography;
- Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training.
I have also completed courses in clinical photography and impression-taking.
My current role includes nursing, but also teaching an apprentice. This is why I took my most recent qualification, the Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training. I have also just started a Level 5 Certificate in Education and Training course which is taught alongside a PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) and runs part-time over two years.
As you may already know, the National Certificate in Dental Nursing is no longer available. I enjoyed this course at the time but the newer qualifications are much more in-depth and I feel they offer greater benefits for prospective dental nurses, particularly those who want to take their learning further.
The Oral Health Promotion course I took was a great way of preparing for the Oral Health Education qualification. It looked at reasons people may have poor oral health and the ways we, as dental professionals, can reach them and promote good oral health. The Oral Health Education qualification then takes things a step further, allowing dental nurses to see patients on their own under prescription of a dentist. The course expands on what you already know from your initial nursing qualification so the work is challenging but not too difficult. However, I found that there was a lot of it and it was incredibly difficult fitting this in around working full-time. The course involves building a portfolio, as well as sitting a final exam which is both written and oral. I found the portfolio quite fun to do and enjoyed getting to know my patients better while I worked through this. Two patients have to be selected as case studies and need to be seen a minimum of three times each, so it is a great opportunity to build good relationships. This is a great qualification for those who enjoy meeting people and who want the added responsibilities of seeing patients alone.
The Dental Radiography course is extremely useful and has given me a skill I use almost every day in my current job. I found there was a smaller amount of work to do on this course, but that the work was much harder. All the nurses at my current practice either hold this qualification or are working towards it and we have all found it very difficult to understand. However, it is worth persevering with it because it is of great benefit to a practice to have so many members of staff who are able to take radiographs. Again, this course is made up of a portfolio and final exam. The portfolio requirements are constantly changing but include taking a set number of certain views; for example, ten sets of bitewings and twenty periapicals. How easy it is to complete the portfolio depends on the individual practice and how many radiographs are taken.
The photography and impression-taking courses I have taken have each been taught in a single day with practical training. The photography course was quite long-winded and covered things such as what kit is required – I found that this was more than I really needed to know. There was also a section on the pros and cons of film and digital photography which seemed irrelevant as we all use digital photography now. My recommendation here is to ask a clinician at your practice for some informal training and try to get lots of practice. The impression-taking course was much more practical, giving the nurses more time to practice taking impressions on the day. This was much more useful as it gave all the nurses on the course a chance to review each other’s impressions and practice assessing whether the impressions were useable or if they needed re-taking. I have found with both of these skills that the best way to improve is to just keep practising.
Both by my current employer and my previous one have offered me the chance to do a sedation course. I have declined to do this course as I do not feel it will add much benefit for me. The course involves submitting a log of sedations the nurse has assisted with, including both intravenous and inhalation. I do assist with treating patients who are sedated, but not on a regular basis, and that has contributed to my decision not to undertake this qualification. However, I still wanted to progress in my career and looked to do something else. This is what led me to look into teaching courses.
My employer decided he wanted to train apprentices who were completely new to dental nursing and asked me to lead the project at our practice. I took a Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training to help me to do this and I loved this course and the difference it made to my teaching. It was certainly hard work but very enjoyable and allows you to meet a variety of different people. The course teaches the learners how to become teachers but not in any particular subject, so it meant I was around people in many different careers.
I am currently studying on a Level 5 Certificate in Education and Training course. So far this has been a much larger amount of work than the Level 4 course and is proving much more of a challenge! However, I am enjoying this and am very excited to see how I progress through the course. My teaching practice is continually improving because of this course and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to begin a career in teaching.
Changes to my job role
The Oral Health Education course is a great course for nurses looking to extend their duties. This qualification has allowed me to run my own appointment book and take responsibility for seeing my own patients. The practice I worked at when I achieved this qualification had an NHS orthodontic contract and so my main role was helping teenagers with new braces to learn how to clean them. It was challenging work to get some teenagers motivated – as I’m sure you can imagine! I faced new challenges regularly, with my most memorable being a patient who had suffered a stroke and lost some mobility in her right arm. She was a patient I selected for a case study and it was extremely rewarding to see the improvement in her oral health over the course of our sessions together. In my current job I still see some patients with new orthodontic appliances but the practice I currently work at mostly sees patients who are having complicated treatment plans including a large number of restorations, often using implants. Therefore, most of the patients in my current appointment book are patients with newly fitted restorations. I have found my Oral Health Education work to be extremely rewarding. I am quite a social person and seeing patients by myself gives me a great opportunity to chat to them casually and get to know them better. This is extremely valuable to a practice as it makes patients feel very cared for and well looked after.
The Radiography course led to my being able to take radiographs for clinicians. This can free up clinicians’ time for other things such as completing patients’ notes. I take radiographs most days in my current job role and it is a great skill for any nurse to have. Radiography is one of our core CPD subjects and so the course itself is a brilliant way of meeting CPD requirements.
Since beginning my Education and Training courses my job role has changed quite a lot. I mainly teach one apprentice at a time through one-to-one sessions but I have also started group sessions with our reception team. My aims for these sessions are to help reception staff be more confident in speaking to patients about their treatment and be more knowledgeable about what happens in the surgery. This should also contribute to the smooth running of appointment books. It will hopefully also help to explain to reception just how busy we nursing staff are!
Online vs in the classroom
My first two courses, the National Certificate and Oral Health Promotion were taught in a classroom setting. I then completed the Oral Health Education and Radiography qualifications online with the British Dental Association (BDA). My teaching qualifications have both taken me back to being taught in a classroom setting, along with having my teachers observe my own teaching sessions. I think there are pros and cons to both ways of learning.
Being taught within a classroom is great for being able to share ideas with peers and also to talk through problems and find solutions together. I have found this really helpful along my journey. I applied for Oral Health Education courses at dental schools for this reason but found that they seemed to get cancelled as there were not enough applicants for the courses to run – that is why I studied online.
The pros of online courses are that you can complete them at home or work and do not need to travel, but I have found that it is beneficial to have colleagues who can help you along the way if you do not have the classroom contact. I found both the BDA Education courses to be very good though, and they have people you can email for support and to answer questions whenever you need, so online courses should definitely not be overlooked.
Although my experiences of online courses have been positive, I still prefer being taught in a classroom setting as I find the support of peers invaluable. For myself, I also find it easier to ask questions face to face rather than in an email and so prefer the support of a teacher I can have a conversation with rather than an email.
I have enjoyed all the courses I have undertaken so far but the ones that stand out are the Oral Health Education and Radiography qualifications. This is because of the great benefits they can add to a practice and also because of the way they have added to my skills. If you can take ownership of your own OHE appointment book and run it effectively, you can prove yourself invaluable to a practice as well as having a lot of fun getting to know your patients better! If you work with a hygienist who has a busy appointment book it can also free up some of their time as you can work together to provide treatment and oral hygiene instruction.
The teaching courses I have done are a fantastic way of moving forward if you want to go into teaching. My only advice here is to be prepared for a lot of work as they are taught at degree level and so you need to be confident you can produce assignments at this level. You will get to meet a lot of different people doing a course like this, though, and will gain a qualification not many nurses have.
Wherever you decide to move forward to, I wish you lots of luck and hope you enjoy developing your practice as much as I have. Have a great time studying!
Katie Booth, RDN