Making the jump from dental nurse to dentist
Laura Maddison talks to Dentistry Online about her journey from dental nurse to dentist – and why it’s all been worth it.
What did you have to do to get into dental school?
I worked as a dental nurse in Sunderland for seven years before I planned to do dentistry.
I started doing the access course, which was three nights a week and because I was still working, of course I had to do night classes. It was like an A Level equivalent. That took me a year to do that and in the meantime I was applying to dental schools. And then I got accepted.
Why did you decide to take the leap from dental nurse to dentist?
There wasn’t anything in particular that made me want to be a dentist. I’d been working in the environment for so long and I knew I wanted to progress somehow. I had the option of dental hygiene and therapy or dentistry. I felt like I wanted to be able to do a bit of everything and I know dental hygienists and therapists can be a bit limited to treatments – and I wanted to be able to do the whole lot. So I just thought: ‘Well, why can’t I do that?’
How does it feel to now be a qualified dentist?
It feels surreal. It’s the only way I can put it. I’m working at the minute in a practice, but I’m just on the reception. So it’s very surreal that in a couple of months I’m going to be in the surgery as a dentist.
I’m really looking forward to getting back. I really enjoyed dental school and learning new things, like how to drill. It’s not as easy as it looks. The dentist I’ve worked with has made it look so easy and I remember thinking: ‘What have I let myself in for here?’
Were there any surprises?
To be honest I was quite shocked at the jump. I was prepared in terms of the equipment but on the operative dentistry side, I couldn’t believe how they made it look so easy. Even just looking in the mirrors. It was really difficult getting the hang of things. It was definitely harder than I anticipated.
I used to say to the amazing dentists I worked with: ‘Why didn’t you say this is hard?’
I think I had a little: ‘I can’t do this’ moment in every year – everybody does. But especially in the first year, this was a very big adjustment. It wasn’t very practical based in the first year, it was more theory. It’d been a while since I’d left school so I think in the first year, with all the cell biology, it was a bit overwhelming. But it never got to the point where I thought about giving up. I’m glad I didn’t – it’s all been worth it. Although I’ve had plenty of moans and whinges and cries.
Which parts of dentistry do you enjoy the most?
I really like oral surgery and maxillofacial surgery. I didn’t think I would because I come from NHS practices and you don’t get to see a lot of that there. My whole plan was to stick to general dentistry. But I really enjoy the maxfax side of things.
I’m hoping to do a year of maxfax next year if I can. I’ve totally done a U-turn really.
What would your advice be for other dental nurses looking to get into dentistry?
I’d really recommend the journey to other nurses. I’d say go for it – if there’s nothing stopping them, then why not? It’s the same environment but you’re just switching from one side of the chair to the other.
Don’t let anything hold you back. But really research it before applying. I had to do a lot of that because not a lot of dental schools will let you in with the access course. Some of the dental schools need A Levels, so there was only a handful of universities I could actually apply to.
It’s also got to be something you really want to do. Unlike hygiene and therapy, this does take five years. But it was definitely worth it. I had to make a lot of life sacrifices – I was 23 when I started university and I was 28 when I finished. A lot of my friends had been buying houses and getting on with life and things like that.
I’m glad I did it and I’m also glad I did it when I did. I think before that I might not have been ready. It is something I had thought about for a long time. But to be honest it was always the hygiene and therapy that I had in my mind. It wasn’t until I started working at the dental hospital and I spoke to a lot of dental students that I really got the push for dentistry.
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