Up to speed

What are the main attributes you’re looking for in potential vocational dental practitioners (VDPs)?

The most important thing for us as trainers is for our VDPs to show a willingness to learn. They also need to have the ability of reflective learning, so if they do a filling and it goes wrong, they should then look over it and question why it went wrong rather than sticking the same filling in over and over again.

Hand in hand with this goes being open to constructive criticism. They need to be able to take it well and not get sulky about it. Finally, they have to be able to go into a practice that is running smoothly and fit in with the team.

What do VDPs learn during their Vocational Training (VT) year?

The whole idea of the scheme is to bring VDPs totally up to speed with everything, so they are fully trained and aware of all of the areas in dentistry. They have lots of different training days to go to where they experience a whole range of things. They get hands-on experience of endodontics, minor oral surgery skills and much more. You name it and we cover it during the course.

One of the things that I do with my group is have a few presentations each year from the defence organisations. I believe it is very important for VDPs to know about this area of dentistry because they are particularly vulnerable to it in their first few years out of dental school.

VDPs are notorious for having a good time. How do you ensure they keep a balance between work and play?

Well, my scheme visits Chicago for a dental conference every year, which a lot of the other schemes don’t. We go for a whole host of reasons: first, it is good fun and second, it is good for the VDPs to see how dentistry works in another country. We hear so much about how fantastic American dentistry is, that it is good to actually see it for yourself.

The group have to attend lectures and the trade show and so they come back with a lot of CPD from that. In terms of working with them as a group, they are definitely a different bunch when they come back from Chicago to when they went. You get to know them a lot better and they tend to treat me as an adviser on a much more equal basis. Consequently you get much better dynamics in the group, which contributes to a better educational environment.

What advice would you give to final students that are apprehensive about their VT year?

You have to get onto a good VT scheme and work at a good practice with a good trainer. The best thing you can do is speak to people at your university who know the VT schemes well and get some feedback and advice from them.

When you are looking at different positions try to speak to the current VDP who is leaving the practice. With my practice I insist that anyone I offer a place to must speak to the VT in the practice when I’m not there to get a real idea of what the job is like. If the trainer at the practice you want to work for is funny about that then I suggest you walk away and find another position.

Do you notice any problems or gaps in VDPs knowledge?

Everyone is different. Some VDPs are fantastic whereas others will be less proficient. As the years have gone by I have noticed that graduates generally get a lot less clinical experience and as a very wide rule, I don’t think they are as good at taking teeth out. They have quite a lack of experience of some of the more advanced restorative work. For example, many have very little bridge experience and haven’t done a great deal of endo work.

Do you think VT will carry on in the future?

That is a very difficult question as it is going through so many changes at the moment. There are a few problems with VT. Firstly, it’s a brilliant system but it costs the government a lot of money. Secondly, it isn’t mandatory across the whole of Europe. That means that dentists can come from Europe and go straight into practice without doing VT, which some British graduates find unfair.

I think we’ve come to a crossroads now as the Committee for Vocational Training has gone, the Dental Vocational Training Authority is about to be disbanded and the whole structure and working of VT is being moved down to individual Primary Care Trusts. The responsibility for the curriculum will come down to each postgraduate dental dean.

There is also a big move in some parts of country to change VT to a General Professional Training (GPT) model, where you have to do two years training. They already have this in Scotland, as well as a competency test at the end, which Wales are now looking at introducing.

In England there is no formal assessment or qualification exam at the end of VT and this may be another thing that changes. It seems like it is either the beginning of the end for VT or the start of a new beginning.

So what does a VT year involve?

• Vocational training involves spending a year in an approved practice, working on a standard contract under the supervision of a trainer

• VDPs who successfully complete training are allocated a VT certificate and number that allows them to work independently in the NHS.

• New graduates can also undertake VT in the CDS (Community Dental Services) or in the armed forces under a scheme run by the DDA (Defence Dental Agency)

• VDPs spend four days a week in practice and one day on day-release at the study day course. They also have a weekly tutorial with their VT trainer

• VDPs do not take a final exam. They are assessed during their training, using a ‘professional development portfolio’ that they complete throughout the year. The portfolio then goes to the post-graduate dental dean who decides whether they have satisfactorily completed VT

• There are around 70 VT schemes in the UK. Intake occurs twice a year; once in summer and once in winter. Each of the 15 deaneries (regions) publishes a list of its available schemes and these can be acccessed on the DVTA website.

For more information, visit www.bda-dentistry.org.uk or www.dvta.nhs.uk.

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