A must-have for all dental courses in the UK is work experience. Dentistry is a career that you cannot go into blindly. Your interactions with patients are so unique, your communication skills must be able to ensure a patient’s comfort and safety without verbal communication. I have been lucky enough to do several work experiences and learnt so many valuable lessons. Here are the top 5 lessons I took away from my work experience.
To me this was invaluable, I had no idea the extent of personal and communication skills required to be a dentist. You must be able to handle a multitude of emotions ranging from anxiety, fear, panic, and apprehension, these require a high level of patience, relatability, toughness, and comfort. Patience is exceptionally important when dealing with uneasy clients, some may be so scared that it takes a lot of encouraging and motivation to get into a chair that fills them with anxiety and dread. It is important to employ empathy with a patient who is feeling concerned and to put yourself in their shoes will help you use the level of patience you would appreciate. Another personal skill I learnt the importance of was for a dentist to be relatable. You must have a willingness and adaptability to relate to people from all walks of life, this will make you seem more approachable for advice and make difficult conversations with patients easier. A difficult part of personal skills I learnt from my work experience was that dentists must have a level of toughness and have thick skin to deal with difficult patients. During my work experience in Cardiff I witnessed a patient verbally abuse a dental nurse and when challenged by a dentist threaten to get violent, seeing this level of rudeness made me feel scared and intimidated but I was amazed by the dentists professionalism and toughness. This made me realise how important it is to remember that you are dealing with members of the public and that some people display their emotions in a variety of ways. Most importantly during my work experience I saw dentists show a level of comfort I had never expected to see with patients regardless of who they are and through verbal and non-verbal cues the ability to make a patient feel at ease is invaluable.
The teamwork and communication skills within a practise is so important as you are never working alone but will be leading a team including nurses and hygienists. You must always show a level of professionalism in front of the patients and respect your colleague’s responsibilities and needs. I was taught by one of my work experiences mentors that Respect is the most important skill by anybody, He showed me that everyone deserves respect, colleagues and patients included. However, as a dentist leading the team there is a need for decisions to be made and orders to be given, this must be done fairly, respectfully and most importantly the safety and wellbeing of all those involved at the forefront.
It may sound Cliché, but I believe that working as a healthcare professional is not only a job but a way of life. The level of commitment and dedication of a dentist is incredible, you must be dedicated to promoting and advertising a healthy and safe level of oral health. In doing so it means that healthy and high standards of oral hygiene must be upheld by yourself which is a dedication. As a role model patient look up to you for advice and aspirations, often giving first-hand advice is more valuable to a patient. You would not want to preach oral health whilst eating sugary sweets with a mouth full of rotting teeth. Another element of commitment I was shown by my mentors was the dedication to patients, one patient I met had visited the dentist 3 days in a row and hadn't managed to get into the chair yet however the dentist was devoted to helping this patient along her journey. Going above and beyond for nervous patients is priceless.
Thirst for knowledge
I was shocked during my work experience that once you have left dental school the learning does not stop there! I had no idea that the studying never ends for a dentist as new treatments and conditions must be taught, understood, and practised throughout the entire career. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with the head of the practise I visited who told me that the one skill he thought every dentist must have was "the thirst for learning and knowledge".
I had not fully appreciated the full important of good eyesight and manual dexterity that a dentist must possess until I was watching procedures be done, the mouth and gums is a small area and the focus point of the face. The importance of being able to perform small fiddly procedures is paramount and good eyesight and focus is imperative. Additionally, superior eye-hand coordination is critical to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of the profession. This made me realise that this skill cannot be taught but comes with practise and is one of the reasons I have decided to take up arts and crafts and sewing as small precise activities will help me improve over time.