Switching from the travel industry to dental nursing – how the pandemic affected me

Natalie Bates discusses what it was like to face COVID-19 just two months into her dental nurse trainingNatalie Bates discusses what it was like to face COVID-19 just two months into her dental nurse training. 

I am a trainee dental nurse in the West Midlands. During my time studying and working I have set up and enjoy running an Instagram page sharing my journey with my family, friends and have been fortunate enough to connect with other trainees and qualified dental care professionals.

Before I worked in dentistry, I spent eight years and most of my working life in the travel industry. The two have been very different experiences for me. But many of my developed skills from travel have been transferable.

Working with patients during painful and anxious times for them has made me very passionate for how I assist their treatments with compassion and care.

My interest into dental nursing came a few years ago after always having a keen interest in medicine and healthcare. This is due to having a doctor and a nurse as parents – and my siblings followed in their path.

I always wanted to do something different – but was never sure what. After a fall on a night out, which ended up in me needing an emergency root canal, I remember the dental nurse was so kind and reassuring. It was watching her during my treatment that sparked my interest.

Greatest support

In 2019 after the collapse of Thomas Cook, I found myself in a worrying position where I could be losing my job. Staying within the travel industry did not seem like a safe bet. I searched online for dental nurse positions and how to become a qualified dental care professional.

The prospect of returning to a college setting in my mid 20s was daunting. I ended up speaking to my now tutor Kyley, who runs an independent training company.

This means that I fund my course myself, but I enjoy the one-to-one learning style I receive. Throughout my course Kyley has always been and continues to be my greatest support.

I began my dental nursing journey in December 2019. I’m now three exams and observations away from qualifying and finally getting my GDC registration. I have worked at two different practices; one was a mixed provider practice, and the other was private.

Over the last 10 months, my confidence and knowledge has grown and I never look back at leaving the industry which once upon a time, I knew nothing else.

Invaluable knowledge

Before COVID, learning typically for me was shadowing in surgery with a senior dental nurse, getting my own hands-on experience and being able to ask questions to the dentist at the end of treatments.

Once a week Kyley would visit the practice for observations and my lesson. If it fell on a day off we would meet up in a coffee shop. She also held workshops at her office to develop our skills further in material mixing and first aid.

March 2020 – I had just moved to a new practice which was set to open its doors. I was getting ready to sit my first exam on cross infection. But overnight, life would change as we knew it completely.

At the time I wasn’t in a work setting where we were seeing patients. But COVID meant the new practice was unable to open. I was lucky to still be able to work from home helping the principal dentist with the set up of her new surgery. I have gained invaluable knowledge from this time.

COVID impacted my learning somewhat. During the peak of the pandemic my weekly lessons went to fortnightly. Our face-to-face lessons in the practice or elsewhere became Zoom calls. I was still able to sit my first exam in June, and passed it at 96%.

New regulations

As times settled, I returned to work and began seeing patients. I had spent so many months reading my textbooks. My theory knowledge was great and it was so nice to finally be chairside and build up confidence in seeing patients.

I do not think trainee dental nurses, qualified nurses or the dental team in general were supported over COVID. We received updates on our closure and reopening at the same time as the general public.

We received no support on the return to work where we had to adapt to our new regulations, PPE and AGP procedures.

For me, my support came from my family at the end of a long day, my tutor and our little catch up chats before my lessons, and from my employer at the time.

The dental team as a whole will now be adapting to our new normal. We adjust to fallow times and how to utilise the time to keep our days productive. We have many different types of PPE available so we can work as comfortably as possible.

Biggest concern

As for the future of dental nursing, and students in particular, I have always said that I used this time to my advantage. I have longer between patients to keep up with other tasks I need to complete such as decontamination.

I only had two months’ work experience behind me before things changed. So the adjustment for me has not been the hardest. But I sympathise with other nurses who struggled or were redeployed to new working environments.

We all know that many dental nurses have not renewed their registration this summer. My biggest concern is that smaller dental teams will put pressure on trainees to do more than they are ready for at the time.

I have such confidence in my job role now, but maybe that is because I can see the finishing line in the distance.

I’ve been so lucky to have great support around me at work and at home. I just hope every other trainee dental nurse has the same and can keep the strength to carry on to our end goal.

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