‘Speed dating’ dental scheme hailed a hit

A dental school’s scheme working with local practitioners to place students in practices for work experience has been hailed a success.

The Peninsula Dental School in the south west of England has worked with local general dental practitioners to put in place a programme whereby final-year students can gain valuable experience on placements within practices.
The programme took place for the first time this year and around a quarter of the final year cohort – which in July this year was the first cohort from the School to graduate – were placed with nine general dental practices. This represented 17 students.
Participating dentists were able to select the students with whom they wished to work at a ‘speed dating’ event held at the School earlier in the academic year.
The first outing for the programme has been hailed a success, with participating dental practitioners stating that not only have they been impressed by the professionalism and expertise of the students, but that they would wish to take part for a second year.
The Peninsula Dental School team that put together the programme is hoping that more general dental practitioners will want to take part in ensuing years – the objective is to place at least half of next year’s final year students with practices with a view to getting all final year students on placement within two to three years.
One practice that took part in the programme and hosted two dental students was Torrington Dental Practice in North Devon.
Headed by Ian Mills, the practice gave students Matt Heming and Ruairi Cunnane a broad exposure to the treatments and issues that face dentists in practice.

The students were allowed to carry out extractions, restorations, emergencies and other procedures under supervision, an experience that saw them not only put their training into practice but also become acclimatised to the time and other pressures of treatments within a practice.
Dr Mills says: ‘As a practitioner, this represented a fabulous opportunity. There was a real buzz about the practice while Matt and Ruairi were with us and we were able to give them experience in surgery, sedation, orthodontics and other procedures. We were impressed by their level of technical skill and their ability to relate to patients – an obvious outcome from the Peninsula Dental School’s primary care based course which gives students exposure to NHS patients at an early stage in their training.”
Students from the Peninsula Dental School start interacting with NHS patients part way through their first year, providing advice and treatments under supervision at dental education facilities in Exeter, Plymouth and Truro. They are also encouraged to interact with local communities via special study units and other initiatives.
Dr. Mills reported that the programme allowed flexibility for the practice to manage the programme in the way that best suited its business model – dividing the students’ five days with the practice across different practitioners, clinicians and patients. Torrington Dental Practice put Matt and Ruairi with either regularly attending patients, or offered treatment with the students to those on the waiting list.
He adds: I can honestly report that hosting Matt and Ruairi did not disrupt my day and that, as a practice, we were delighted to take part and will be taking part in future years. My advice to other practitioners who may be considering being part of this is – do it. It’s a great contribution to the future of the dental profession.’
Dr Mills’s colleagues share his enthusiasm for the programme. Neah Locke, dental nurse, said:“Both Matt and Ruairi were very confident, calm and showed fantastic people skills. They interacted with patients well and put them at their ease.

‘My colleagues and I helped them to get used to operating different equipment and find their feet around the practice. The big difference for them was that in practice the routine steps up a beat in comparison with training scenarios, yet even though they were aware of time they were still very thorough with treatments. They were used to working with dental nurses thanks to their experiences at the Peninsula Dental School’s dental education facilities, so that helped immensely when translating across to practice.’
The programme at Torrington Dental Practice was equally valuable to Matt and Ruairi. Over five days they were exposed to paediatric dentistry, fillings, extractions, simple restorative work and emergencies.
Ruairi, whose first appointment was a root filling, says: ‘This was very good experience that put us under pressure in a real dental practice environment. In many ways it was a continuation of our experience gained via the dental education facilities but the big difference for us was the time pressure. We certainly felt that our training had prepared us well for practice and we truly benefitted from our time with Ian and his colleagues.’
Matt, who in his time at Torrington impressed the team by successfully managing a treatment involving an anxious child, mirrored Ruairi’s comments.

He said: ‘What we saw in practice was not unlike what we have seen in the community, so we weren’t shocked on our first day. Ian and his team gave us a certain level of autonomy and it really felt like being a dentist – being able to think for yourself but also being able to refer to Ian and the team. Over the five days both Ruairi and I felt truly assimilated to the environment of a busy practice, and we speeded up our techniques and treatments naturally.’
Emma Spiers, dental project manager at the Peninsula Dental School, said: ‘Our final year placement programme has been designed to bridge the gap between real-life training and real-life practice. We know that this has contributed greatly to the employability of our final year students because, by the time they had graduated in July this year, the majority were already lined up with great jobs.’
She added: ‘The story from Torrington has been echoed from other general dental practices that have taken part in the first year of our programme: the overwhelming response has been that it has been a success and that participating practitioners are wholeheartedly keen to take part again.
‘We aim to place half our final year students on the programme in 2012, with a view to placing all year fours with practices in 2013 and beyond. We hope that the experiences highlighted here – from students, practitioners and patients – will encourage more general dental practices to sign up to the programme and help us contribute to the future excellence of the dental profession.’
General dental practices wishing to take part in the Peninsula Dental School’s final year placement programme can do so by contacting Emma Spiers on 01752 437374 or by email at [email protected] More information is available by logging on at www.pds.ac.uk.

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