Celebrating 100 years of women dental professionals
Where did you qualify from and when? Birmingham in 1982.
What attracted you to dentistry?
From the age of about 10, medical school had been a major ambition [although I didn’t have any doctors in the family and didn’t know anyone who had been to university]. O Levels and A levels were chosen with this ambition in mind. Yet it changed overnight following a brief conversation with a General Dental Practitioner [GDP] at a 6th form college careers convention. A decision that I have never regretted once!
The attraction of these career options, at such a young age, is lost to me now, but scientific knowledge, being with patients, and clinical skills were all important even then.
For some years I have worked within a NHS Trust [ both acute and community Trusts] with the joint responsibilities of Clinical Director of Community Dental Services and Specialist in Special Care Dentistry. Most of every working week involves assessing and treating people of all ages with complex medical, social and treatment needs. Most of the clinical input is in the clinic, but a proportion of patients are treated in theatre with Day Case general anaesthetic in a local hospital.
We have a contract to provide paediatric exodontia services for local children referred to the department by local GDPs. It is a sobering thought that a significant part of my responsibilities remains the assessment and extraction of multiple primary and permanent teeth with general anaesthesia, usually for children under 10 years old.
The Clinical Director role has several facets, strategic management of the Community Dental Services and it’s associated Human Resources, finance and clinical governance within the Trust . This role has constantly evolved, particularly in response to recent competitive tendering exercises.
The Trust has a Caldicott Guardian based in the acute sector of the organisation. I act as the Deputy, to ensure that the Trust has a person familiar with the environment of community services when seeking to protect patient information and confidentiality.
Outside of the Trust, my portfolio career includes a role as a North West Clinical Director rep on the English Community Dental Service Committee [ECDSC] of the British Dental Association [BDA]. I am a cross representative to the Faculty of Dental Surgery in the Royal College of Surgeons of England [FDSRCS Eng] and have been the Chair of the Advisory Committee for Community Dentistry at the FDS for 3 years. That position has resulted in an invited seat on the FDS Board, a role which has been a particular highlight in recent years.
Heather’s Dental Story
Towards the end of the course at Birmingham I developed an interest in maxillofacial and oral surgery. This resulted in applications for House Officer posts in maxillo- facial departments, and success in actually getting my first choice post at North Staffordshire Hospital. This challenging role broadened my knowledge of head and neck pathology, health and disease. After 2 years in maxillofacial departments the first crossroads were reached. To remain in maxillofacial surgery, with it’s necessary study of medicine, or take a different pathway? Not wishing to return to University, I applied for a post in the Community Dental Service[CDS] for a ‘breathing space ‘. I’m still there now!
Moving through the grades in Community Dental Services from Dental Officer, to Senior Dental Officer in Special Care Dentistry, and then to Specialist in Special Care and Clinical Director has been a continuous development of skills, knowledge and experience. It has given me challenges and career satisfaction both academically and clinically, studying for a Master in Community Dental Health [Birmingham] and a Diploma in Dental Public Health [ FDSRCS Eng].
The CDS has enabled me to work in different environments including various hospitals, a women’s prison, schools, nursing homes and in people’s homes. Few other roles in dentistry enable the dentist to experience such a range of settings, although not all are conducive to clinical dentistry!
The post graduate qualifications have opened up opportunities both within and beyond the CDS. Opportunities to work with colleagues and departments beyond dentistry included being made ‘champion‘ for the new Freedom of Information Act. This lead first to being responsible for data protection advice for patient services, then to becoming the Caldicott Guardian for the whole Trust. That role encouraged me to apply to be the Medical Director of the Trust. I felt a great boost to confidence and resilience in achieving this Board level post and making it a success for three years.
Within dentistry there is a broad spectrum of professionals. It has been my good fortune to be involved in training students in several skill sets. Initially my input was at local FE colleges offering classes for dental nurses wishing to qualify as Nationally recognised Dental Surgery Assistants. Teaching basic materials, anatomy, oral surgery procedures and cross infection control introduced me to many local dental nurses and practices.
Teaching dental nurses naturally lead to becoming an examiner for the National Association of Dental Nurses. Six years of visiting examination centres and marking papers lead to a much greater challenge in education. Liverpool Dental School had funding to establish outreach teaching centres for Therapists, centred on Liverpool University, within the North West Region. Would we help them to set up a course in Crewe?
Establishing the course facilities filled months, all alongside the day job of Special Care Dentistry. Dental nurses from our own CDS, and local practices, successfully applied to become Dental Hygiene Therapists and commenced their training in Crewe. They attended the CDS clinics and local practices to be supervised by dentists while learning to treat patients under a prescription. These cohorts of Therapists have now developed their own varying careers, a highlight of my own career .
The DDPH RCS has enabled me to become a member of the FDS RCS Eng , which led to becoming a committee member for the Advisory Committee for Community Dentistry at the College. After 2 years on the committee I volunteered to be the Vice Chair, and ultimately the Chair of that committee. The Chair is an invited member of the Board of the Faculty of Dental Surgery. Being involved in the Board has been intimidating, stimulating and outside of my comfort zone at times, but something that I would not have missed for anything.
Advice to Younger Self
Realise that any experience, education and networking can lead to unexpected opportunities in the future, sometimes years later. These varying opportunities make you a fulfilled and constantly engaged professional.
There has not been a single mentor who has influenced me above all others. However, the first maxillofacial Consultants for whom I worked at the commencement of my career set the tone of the years ahead. They emphasised the respect, care and attention to detail required when treating patients and the need to accurately record all aspects of the care for future reference.
Mentoring Throughout My Career
Mentoring has been both informal and professional throughout my career. Colleagues and friends in dentistry have offered their advice and expertise at important times. These occasions have included times of stress and difficulty, but also at those vital crossroads which occur in any career. Mentors have been able to provide knowledge and guidance enabling me to crystallize my own thoughts and direction of travel and put them into action.