Dental schools and how they contribute to private practice
Professor Nairn Wilson CBE offers reflections on dental school contributions to private practice.
It is often forgotten that dental schools have functions over and above undergraduate dental education. Dental schools, together with the dental hospital which they typically co-exist with, are centres of excellence for undergraduate and postgraduate education, as well as oral and dental research and related scholarly activities.
In addition, dental schools and associated dental hospitals provide large amounts of continuing professional development, specialist training and secondary care services. Most schools make important contributions to the training of dental care professionals. In this way, dental schools make many different contributions to the dental workforce. This includes lifelong learning and advances in oral and dental science. Many of these contributions impact on private practice.
Dental schools, being part of a university, provide students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – with a university education. The aim of the undergraduate degree programme is to produce ‘safe- beginner’ dental graduates fit for future purpose.
Whatever branch of dentistry they may find themselves in the future, graduates should be aware that their qualifying degree is just the end of the beginning of a career-long continuum of education and skill acquisition and motivated to constantly develop their knowledge, skills and understanding.
In this way, it is intended that those graduates who decide to pursue a career in private practice will feel that they had an appropriate grounding in dental school, rather than having to retrain for their chosen career pathway. That said, it is acknowledged that new graduates have certain skills gaps. Time, opportunity and resources permit this in dental schools and it would be good to address in the future.
Once in private practice, and subject to location, practitioners are supported to varying degrees. This support, in terms of education, may range from masters, or doctoral degrees. It is possibly linked to specialty training programmes, to CPD.
Dental schools may, in addition, provide opportunity for private practitioners to realise an ambition to become part-time teachers. In the process, they have opportunity to interact with like-minded colleagues in teaching clinics on a regular, typically weekly basis. In some dental schools, private practitioners are an invaluable source of special expertise and knowledge to be shared with students and trainees. They are vital to the pursuit of certain forms of practice-based research.
Therefore, dental schools may greatly enhance the professional fulfilment of private practitioners and help them keep connected, especially if they have small, especially single-handed practices.
In my 15 or so years of experience of being a dean in two UK dental schools, strong, mutually beneficial relationships with private practices and private practitioners were a precious resource to be cultivated and cherished.
I very much hope that my experiences are reflected across the UK. In looking forward, I hope that dental schools, private practitioners will seek ‘win-win’ relationships. Along with all the benefits and beneficiaries, especially students and trainees.