Helping you to grow

Growing Philips' study groupLaura McClune talks to Oral Health about a pilot for a study group for newly-qualified hygienists and therapists that she’s leading, hosted by Philips.

What is your background?

I have been a dental hygienist for almost 15 years now. I qualified from King’s College London in 2005. Then I worked in general practices around London, the south east and Surrey until I started at Philips in 2018 as a professional educator. I now split my time between training and professional liaison focusing on Philips products, both Sonicare and Zoom. And I still do one day a week in clinical practice working with patients.

I am also in the final stages of my MSc in advanced and specialist healthcare at the University of Kent. I am just finishing my dissertation in which I am exploring the experience of the dental hygienist working with and without dental nurses. Next step: publication!

What is the set up for the study group for newly-qualified hygienists and therapists?

This study club is going to be a really effective way to bring small groups of hygienists together. Philips has carried out a lot of work with universities and dental schools, working with students. Many wanted to join a small group-learning environment. An environment that would help them as newly-qualified hygienists and therapists. It could provide support as they transition to their first jobs, allowing them to learn from their peers, sharing tips and tricks and empowering them to treat with confidence.

Many confided that they find it difficult to transition from being a student. That they would appreciate some support after they emerge into this big, wild world of general practices.

So, on that basis, we are setting up this semi-structured session limited to 12 delegates who have recently graduated and could benefit from our support. We encouraged newly-qualified hygienists and therapists to come forward and register if they felt they could benefit from it. So we know the demand is there.

What are you trying to achieve with the study group?

The idea with this study club is to give students a bit more support and guidance. We want to equip them with knowledge they have not really learnt at university. For example, the management role, managing diaries, how to set yourself as self-employed – that sort of thing.

I personally felt rather isolated when I started as a hygienist. There was nothing in place and it was a steep hill to climb. At least today we have more social media and access to key group learning. I did not get that chance. It was just down to sheer determination and working in different places that taught me how to deal with the job.

I feel so passionate about it. I don’t want my peers to be left to their own devices and ask themselves what they need to do next without any tangible support from anywhere.

Often a hygienist works solely for one given practice. It does not really occur to the dentist that they may need some support. However, advice or mentorship from another hygienist is better. They really understand the challenges and can provide the emotional and practical support and guidance.

What will you be teaching during the session?

I decided to reach out to hygienists and therapists and ask them what they were missing and what elements of teaching they would value most from the study group sessions. Many came back saying they struggled to manage their diary from an hourly appointment at university to 15 patients a day with 30-minute back to back appointments.

They want to learn how to prioritise treatment times, deal with their contracts, manage patient expectations, communications, management and everything required when going to work in a dental practice for the first time.

Will there be any additional support for the group?

Following this initial study group, we will look to expand and roll it out. We hope to have regular or quarterly study clubs where people would bring their cases and experiences. They could share them and we can talk this through as a group.

We have had discussions to roll these study groups out across the Philips’ educational teams. There are five professional educators and we all have dental nurse or dental hygienist backgrounds.

Providing this pilot is the success we predict it will be, we can definitely roll out the concept across all disciplines.

I am interested in mentoring as soon as my masters is complete, too.

Why are you focusing on newly-qualified hygienists and therapists?

As said before, I was there and I can definitely relate to the concerns newly-qualified hygienists and therapists face. Students are so keen and eager – they have so much to offer but some may need direction. They are a prime group who can benefit from this and I am passionate about personal development and providing them with support.

What’s the idea behind the study club?

Delegates will get verifiable CPD certification, and will therefore provide us with feedback.

At the early stage of my career, there really wasn’t any positive engagement with companies in practice. Now Philips really wants to engage with, and work with, hygienists and therapists. It wants to offer support, both face to face and digitally. The company is planning to increase the level of digital support to provide more support options and make them more convenient to access.

We are putting together a new scheme for brand ambassadors. We offer the platform to the people who love our products to promote themselves, really create a community of Sonicare users and recommenders, and help establish a platform for clinicians in their own rights.

What would you hope the take-home message will be?

There is a lot of support available. It is very overwhelming when you go out to a practice for the first time. You don’t know if you are doing things right. We want to show hygienists and therapists that support is there. There are people who want them to do well and help them grow and develop.

When you were newly-qualified, did you feel you were well equipped to go into dentistry? Or are there areas you felt could have been more supported, and by whom?

I knew how to do my clinical work and how to treat patients, but I had no idea how to manage my diary, deal with employers, dentists, practice politics, manage my cases, and handle my self-employed status.

The BSDHT is offering more support now but help could also come from within the practice a bit more.

Practice teams could train to support the newly-qualified hygienists and therapists.

Some practice owners might need the support to understand the full scope of dental hygienists and therapists. It’s so important to understand how wide our skills set is and how a varied team can really benefit patients and help the practice thrive. We are here to help equip newly-qualified individuals so they can have those conversations.

How is the role of hygienists and therapists evolving in your view and how can companies like Philips help them grow?

I think the role is growing well and becoming a lot more positive. There is a lot more recognition of hygienists and therapists being professionals in their own rights. A lot of hygienists and therapists now have a social media profile so they can now reach out to the public.

Companies like Philips are really helping by providing learning supporting tools for dental hygienists and therapists to help them grow and evolve, and make their working lives a lot easier through their innovations and products.

What are Philips’ plans for hygienists and therapists in 2020?

We are hoping to work a lot more with hygienists and therapists as the year unfolds. We are hoping to engage and support them face to face and digitally. Philips plans to increase brand awareness and show that we are there to support and create a community of Sonicare users and brand ambassadors and give a platform for themselves too. 

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