The adventurous route
Why did you choose a career in the armed forces?
At the time I was attracted by the opportunity to practise dentistry in different locations around the world (clichéd I know, but true). The appeal of working in a practice on a UK high street just wasn’t there. The army also offered an excellent cadetship package through the last years of university which encouraged me to look into the more long-term benefits of a forces career.
At what age did you decide to go into dentistry, and what prompted you to do so?
After GCSEs I decided to do work experience in a variety of different jobs, one of which was working with a dentist. Something just said ‘I can do that’. This, combined with the fact that he owned a couple of very nice cars, may have had some influence on a 16 year old!
Once you decided you wanted to work as a dentist in the armed forces, what steps did you have to take to make it a reality?
Most dental schools arrange careers’ advice days towards the end of the course, and Sheffield, where I studied, was no different. The army came round with their presentation and what they had to offer looked good. Initially all interested personnel attend an ‘aquaint visit’ which included meeting various members of the RADC, visiting a military dental practice and a brief informal interview. Those still interested then applied for an interview with the board. There is no requirement to undertake any formal military training whilst at university – the army is more concerned that you pass the finals!
Where has the work taken you travel-wise? What’s been your favourite posting?
In the two years I have been in the army I have worked in the UK, various locations within Germany and been lucky enough to spend two months in Kenya. I have also been to Norway with the army on adventurous training. I wouldn’t say I had a favourite posting, each one is different, but the opportunity to work in Kenya was one that I won’t forget.
What motivates you to go to work every day?
Probably much the same as any other dentist – the people we meet and the job satisfaction.
What are the best and worst bits about your job?
The obvious advantage is the opportunities we get outside of dentistry. Things like being able to spend one week a year doing adventurous training, few employers in civilian life would allow their dentists an extra week above their leave entitlement to learn a sport whilst still being paid. Other good bits are regular CPD, encouragement and support to obtain further qualifications (e.g. MFGDP), the social network, opportunities to work in exciting locations and increased job satisfaction as we’re not pressured by time. On the downside, we don’t get to choose where we work. We do get a say and if space is available the army will try to accommodate a request, but if you’re told to go, you’re going.
If you hadn’t been a dentist, what would you have been?
Since my work experience I’ve never really contemplated any other career.
What do you do to relax?
Like most people in the army, I have a general interest in fitness so spend a lot of my spare time either running or in the gym. I’m also a big football fan and try to get to as many games as I can.
Do you spend a lot of time away from home, and how do you cope with that?
I spend a lot of time in Germany where I’m currently based but, thanks to the increase in budget airlines, it’s not too difficult or expensive to get back home regularly to catch up with friends and family. I usually get back at least once a month. There’s usually loads going on in the mess in Germany or people going out somewhere, so it’s not that you’ve got time to sit around and get bored.
There is a high demand for dentists in the armed forces. What would you say to recommend it as a career to someone?
Look at where you see yourself in five years’ time. Do you really want to be doing the same job in the same place with the same patients at this stage in your career? As a dentist, you have a potentially long career and this sort of opportunity is probably best suited to the early stages of it, so make the most of it.
What is the pay and job satisfaction like?
Pay is comparable with civilian practice, especially given the amount of leave and adventurous training we get. Job satisfaction is excellent because we get the time to spend doing quality dentistry without the pressures associated with civilian practice.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I’ve only been working for two years so don’t really have too much to comment on, but probably ringing up my parents to tell them I’d passed the finals!
If you could change three things about your job, what would they be?
Paperwork, I always seem to be drowning in the stuff. Secondly, on-call duties – but then again most dentists would prefer not to have to be on call! Finally, I’d like more military training/opportunities. Once Sandhurst is completed there is very little time set aside to get involved with the military side of the job.
Talk us through a typical day at work?
I usually arrive at around 07.45 and read through the mail that I need to look at. Any admin issues are normally sorted first thing in the morning because it’s about the only time I don’t have any patients. The first patient is booked in at 08.30 and the appointments pretty much run one after the other until 12.30 when we break for lunch. We do have a break at 10.30 but in reality it’s one of our sick parade slots so often we’ll have a patient booked in. At 13.30 it starts again with patients until 16.00. I’ll probably stay at work until 17.00-17.30 finishing off paperwork or preparing for tomorrow’s patients. There’s usually something that interrupts the flow of the day though and that’s why the job is so interesting. That could be something like a patient with toothache, the boss ringing up and asking you to prepare a presentation or the Commanding Officer ringing up to check on the dental fitness status of his troops. From work I’ll go to the gym on most nights and then spend the rest of the evening relaxing in the mess with friends.
Describe your working environment, for example how big is your dental team and what are the facilities like?
A lot of the military dental centres are being refurbished and equipped with brand new equipment. Celle, where I work in Germany, is one such centre so my working environment is excellent. Celle is a single-chair centre so in addition to the dental officer we have a civilian dental nurse and a military practice manager. We also have a visiting hygienist. I’m responsible for just over 1,000 patients (this includes families of the soldiers) so we’re busy most of the time. Busiest times tend to be after leave periods or long weekends when we get more dental emergencies, or during school holidays when we get a lot of children in.
Are there any special qualities you think an armed forces dentist needs to have?
General confidence and an ability to adapt to a wide range of situations you may find yourself in at short notice.
What are your future plans/ambitions?
I have a short service commission in the RADC which is six years. The first two have gone really quickly, it doesn’t seem that long ago I was leaving Sheffield Dental School. At the moment I’m happy with my role and enjoying life in the army. If, in a couple of years, I still feel the same I’ll apply to extend my commission – the appeal of working in high street still isn’t there!