Chatting with the chairman – part three: an interview with Paul Ashley

Diana Spencer talks to Paul AshleyDiana Spencer talks to Paul Ashley about continuing to make a difference to patients’ lives – even if his optimism has been tempered by experience.

Diana Spencer (DS): Why did you choose dentistry?

Paul Ashley (PA): I always wanted to be in a caring profession. My father was a dentist and my mother was a hygienist so I took the easy way out and followed them. I’ve never regretted it.

What excites you most about the business/practice of dentistry?

It’s the practical nature of the profession – being able to manage a problem almost instantaneously. That, plus the endless variety of care that we can deliver.

When things turn out well it’s good to go home and feel confident that I’ve achieved something worthwhile and made a difference.

Tell me about your culture fix…how do you unwind?

I’ve always loved books and as a younger man ploughed through all the classics. But older, slightly more stressed me doesn’t have the headspace for that any more. So it’s popcorn movies all the way. 

What advice would you offer an upcoming dental student? 

Have an open mind for the first two to three years. Try to get a range of jobs – in hospital, in practice and so on. Once you’ve done that, you will get a feel for what your career is going to be, what really interests you or which area you have an aptitude in. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The second piece of advice I would offer follows on from this. You are in it for the long haul: there is no rush. Have an eye on what you want be doing when you are 40 or 50.

I have colleagues in full-time clinical jobs in their 50s who are being ground down by the endless clinical load.

Think about how you can make the job more varied. That could be by doing postgraduate study, or perhaps teaching part time in a university.

How do you see dentistry in five or 10 years?

If you had asked me that when I was an undergraduate, I would have been hugely optimistic and said that caries would be eliminated, that sort of thing.

But now? Well, I’m not sure in five or 10 years we will see the differences that we might like. We are, by nature, a conservative profession as well.

However, I do wonder if we will start to see restorative materials catching up with the modern concept of sealing caries in. We have the right idea, but so far we don’t have the right materials to fulfil this promise as yet. This is something we are looking at here at the Eastman.

The biggest changes will be the ones we don’t expect, I think 2020 should remind us of that. Expect the unexpected!

What’s been your greatest challenge to date?

Trying to manage an academic career and a clinical career and a young family at the same time. There are too many balls in the air.

It’s a bit like the ‘climbing Mount Everest’ challenge – tricky at the time, but worth it in the end!

What’s the worst/most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?

There have been too many to count!

I’ve been caught out by one of those remote-operated doors in a train toilet, slipped on banana peels, and fallen off bikes in front of buses full of people.

One of the only advantages of getting older is that you care less and less about these things.

Who was your mentor?

Either my PhD supervisors (Andy Blinkhorn and Robin Davies) or Professor Phil Holloway who taught me how to be a researcher.

Professor Holloway probably had the most profound effect on me, and I still find myself repeating some of what he taught me to my own doctorate students.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in a dental surgery?

Taking an impression on a partially dentate patient with plaster of Paris by mistake. Fortunately, I managed to get it out, and the patient was very understanding though I think I was a pool of sweat by the end! Credit to my supervisor at the time as well.

What advice would you give to someone setting up their own surgery?

This is probably not really relevant to me, but a related piece of advice is to consider what kind of life do you want to live? And then set up your career with your goals in mind, eg retire at 50, travel a great deal, have a family and be able to spend time with your children.

Do you have any regrets?

I’m not a regretful person. As far as further ambitions go, I got my chair last year and am enjoying that for the moment!

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here. 

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