A post-qualification guide for dental hygienists and therapists

dental hygienists just graduatedJust graduated as a dental hygienist and therapist? Soha Rashid covers the things you need to know before stepping into the dental practice.

Firstly, heartiest congratulations on qualifying!

Being a dental student is extremely intense and stressful. But you are now standing at the door to the most exciting part!

As a recent dental school graduate myself, I can confirm that entering the thrilling world of dentistry is extremely overwhelming. Even more so during a global pandemic!

I’m sure how to begin preparing, which documents you may require, which protection policies to apply for and all the next steps in general must intrigue you. Hopefully, this article will provide clear guidance through what may currently seem like a maze!

I will cover six areas:

  1. Registering with the General Dental Council (GDC)
  2. Applying for jobs
  3. Indemnity
  4. Income protection
  5. Continuous professional development (CPD)
  6. Investing in yourself.

1. Registering with the GDC

The General Dental Council (GDC) is the statutory regulator of all dental care professionals in the UK.

The GDC ensures patients’ safety, as well as their confidence in dental services.

In order to practice as a dental hygienist or therapist within the UK, you must register with the GDC and have a unique GDC number. Without this, it is illegal to practice dentistry within the UK.

Aspiring dental hygienists and therapists can apply for registration via the GDC website.

If you graduate within the UK, you will require the following documents for registration:

  1. Proof of identity (a valid passport, driving licence, ID card issued by armed forces or an EEA ID card)
  2. Proof of qualification
  3. A character reference.

It is recommended that one should begin searching for jobs only after applying for GDC registration. Though you can do this prior to formally registering provided you are not practising as a hygienist or therapist.

Please note that due to the impacts of COVID-19, the registration process could take up to five weeks due to a backlog of applications.

2. Applying for jobs

Conveniently, there are numerous ways to find and apply for jobs nowadays. I strongly recommend websites like Indeed and Glassdoor. As well as ethical and friendly recruitment agencies like Diamond Dental Staff.

Before applying, it is preferable to have an idea of what you may desire from a job. Some starting points to provoke your thought may include:

  • Preference of types of nurse eg a decontamination nurse or a dental nurse providing full-time chairside assistance
  • Distance from your place of residence
  • Scope for personal development at a certain practice
  • Are you looking for a part-time or a full-time position?
  • Are you aspiring to become self-employed?

For those undertaking self-employment, registration as a sole-trader or limited company is required by HMRC for auditing purposes prior to employment.

Some graduates may also decide to enrol on a vocational training (VT) program. However, unlike dental surgery graduates, VT is not mandatory.

It is also important to note that VT opportunities are currently only available to dental therapists.

VT aims to provide extended support and education to qualified dental therapists within a clinical environment, with a designated mentor who is typically an experienced dentist.

A VT often includes over 100 hours of continuous professional development (CPD), accumulated over the course of a year. VT programmes are held across the UK.

3. Indemnity

Indemnity is a form of insurance for dental care professionals.

It may cover issues such as injuries, delays in referral, misdiagnosis or mental/physical harm to a patient.

Indemnity is a GDC requirement and allows the appropriate arrangements in the rare case of any harm to a patient. One must ensure that their indemnity policy allows all responsibilities to be undertaken for each of the practices that they may work in.

Personally, I recommend applying for indemnity immediately after you receive a job offer. This way you can include any training that you need to undertake in the interim in the indemnity policy.

4. Income protection

Income protection provides protection over a portion of income if one is incapable of working due to injury, illness or even in rare occurrences such as a pandemic!

While not a necessity, an income protection policy could prove vital in any role. Particularly in the case that sick leave is not granted.

Lloyd and Whyte, a financial and insurance adviser for dental professionals, recommends that individuals should take out cover when they are fit and healthy to avoid any complications in policy.

Other forms of income protection to consider are pension/retirement plans and life insurance.

5. Continuous professional development (CPD)

Continuous professional development (CPD) is described by the GDC as: ‘The study, training courses, seminars, reading and other activities undertaken by a dental professional, which could reasonably be expected to advance his or her professional development as a dental professional.’

Dental hygienists and therapists undergo 75 hours of verifiable CPD over a five-year cycle. Core subjects studied by dental hygienists and therapists typically match those of dentists. They include:

  1. Medical emergencies
  2. Disinfection and decontamination
  3. Radiography and radiation protection.

The GDC also recommends CPD in the fields of legal and ethical issues, as well as complaints handling. CPD could include any or a combination of lectures, courses, staff training, reading journals and private study.

6. Investing in yourself

While the years of dental school may finally be behind you, it is clear that you will now be immersed in new opportunities and the responsibilities associated with the same.

However, it is important that you take the time to plan. This will ensure that the forthcoming period is less stressful, thereby contributing propitiously to your physical and mental wellbeing.

During such transitions, looking after yourself is equally as necessary!

I wish you all the best in your future careers, the fun has just begun!

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