What’s life like as the only dentist on the island?
Island life is something many dream of, particularly recently during the COVID lockdown. We speak to Michael Twamley about his recent move to the Isles of Scilly and find out what island life is really like.
Can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Michael Twamley. I’m the current dentist on the Isles of Scilly, working at the Brighter Dental Practice, part of Smile:Together, on the lovely island of St Mary’s.
I qualified in dentistry from the University of Birmingham back in 2002. Then I went straight into the military, working for the Royal Army Dental Corps.
I did my foundation year in Germany at Rheindahlen, which is in the north of Germany. Following that I did some operational tours in Bosnia and Iraq.
I was lucky enough to do a full-time MSc at the Eastman in endodontics. Within the military I was an enhanced practitioner in endodontics.
After coming to the end of 20 years in the military I had the opportunity to come and get this job on the Isles of Scilly and therefore have a new adventure on an island with lots of nice people.
Where were you based before this then?
My last posting I was based at Lichfield, which is a defence medical services base in Staffordshire.
What drew you to the position on the Isles of Scilly?
It was the first lockdown. My wife and I were just looking at what I could do next, when my time in the military came to an end.
Then we saw the advert. The blue skies, turquoise seas, sandy beaches – we just thought it seemed like a great way to live life. Not just a dental life, but a family life.
It’s very much a community-focused life out here. It’s the kind of place where kids can live an idyllic childhood and wonder off and have adventures on the islands. We thought that’s what we want for our kids. We just fancied a complete change.
What was the move like? Did the family need much convincing?
No, once we said to the kids we’re moving potentially to a small island with beautiful beaches, where the school backs onto the beach, the kids were pretty much sold.
My wife’s a massive fan of Cornwall. We had our honeymoon in Porthleven in Cornwall 10 years ago. So we’re big fans of Cornwall.
Living in Nottingham, we were two hours away from the nearest beach. Now they have the opportunity to be 10 minutes walk from four or five beaches. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
What was the process like? Did you have to go over to the island and visit beforehand for an interview?
There was an initial interview over Microsoft Teams. Then I didn’t hear anything for quite a long time. I actually thought I hadn’t got the job.
I emailed and asked for some feedback. Then I got a nice email back saying that it wasn’t that I had been unsuccessful, but there were so many applicants they were still working through.
I had an additional Teams interview and then myself and the two other final candidates came across to the islands for a final interview stage. This was to meet the dental nurse, to meet some of the management face-to-face and also to gauge what the community is like over here.
What is the community like?
Incredibly welcoming. Everyone is so welcoming. You can’t really sell it enough.
Everyone is very friendly. They all know that I’m the dentist, which is quite nice. Especially during off season, there’s very few people who aren’t locals. Instantly as I walk down the street and wave, people know I’m the dentist. When I go into the shop people know I’m a dentist. At the school gates, people know that these are the dentist’s children.
So it’s very welcoming, it’s very nice and everyone has a lot of patience.
It’s just a very nice place, beautifully attractive even away from the beaches. The island itself has fantastic views – there’s rope swings on several of the trees.
Are you the only dentist on the island?
Yes. There’s a retired dentist called Bob. But yes, all dentistry comes through myself.
I think my military background has given me an advantage. On operations quite often as a military dentist, you’ll be the only dentist. So you learn to manage complications as they arise.
I’ve got an MSc and have a postgraduate diploma in dental implants. There’s a lot of transferable skills in terms of extraction. So I feel quite comfortable here.
I brought my microscope with me. A removals company brought it across and it’s now set up in the surgery. So a few patients have benefited from that.
What is it like working as the only dentist on the island? Is NHS dentistry the same as anywhere else in the UK?
Yes. NHS dentistry is exactly the same.
I’d say the one difference is over a period of time you have a potential closer relationship than most NHS dentists with their patients.
The patients I deal with day to day, I will see in the supermarket. I will see in the shops. I will see on the beach. There’s no getting away from it.
So it’s all about producing high quality dentistry on the NHS within the confines of the system to ensure that my patients continue to give me a warm welcome as the years go by.
The children I see today will be the people serving me in the shops and looking after me, hopefully as I get older.
What about dental supplies – are they easily accessible or does it take a bit longer to get those shipped across?
It does take a little bit longer. We’ve got a ship that comes in a few times a week. It’s not a problem, it just takes a little bit longer.
But the way of life on the island is slightly more relaxed. Some of our patients don’t live on St Mary’s Island, they live on some of the other four inhabited islands.
So sometimes a patient may have a problem but they have to wait for a boat to come across to see me. It’s not quite as imminent.
What is the dental health like of the people on the island?
In general I think lockdown had an impact. At the moment we’re trying to improve things and we’re working through our broken tooth list. But I’m hopeful that we’ll improve it.
Tonight after work I’m giving a socially-distanced oral health presentation to some boarding school kids. Children from other islands who board on St Mary’s for educational purposes. So I’m going down to see them after work tonight.
Would you recommend dentists try island life?
I would definitely recommend it.
I think it’s all about just deciding your life, what you want, and what you want out of life. Whether that’s private dentistry, working in the city. Or whether you do fancy something slightly different.
Life is short and it’s all about having a great career and just enjoying our time as a dentist. It’s a very privileged position to be a dentist on this island. So I just need to make sure that I’m enjoying myself and I’m making my patients smile.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve just got to thank the military. It gave me the skillset that enables me to adapt so well to island life.
I would recommend military dentistry as a great starting point. It’s a great career for any dentists who have an interest in leading a different life.
To the same degree the Brighter Dental (Smile:Together) team have been so supportive of my transition. They also have gone above and beyond to try and bring me in.
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