Dental foundation training during a COVID year
Puja Jalota shares her experiences of being a foundation dentist during the COVID-19 pandemic and describes how study days, coursework and life in practice have been affected.
Five years at Cardiff dental school came to an end for me in March 2020. Unable to say goodbye in person to classmates I had spent so long with, as well as the cancellation of graduation ceremony, it was a subdued and abrupt finish. However, the next chapter was fast approaching and I felt apprehensive – dental foundation training during a COVID-19 pandemic.
I decided to move back home to Staffordshire for my training and, fortunately, secured my first-choice practice locally.
I originally met my training programme director and the foundation dentists on the scheme on a Zoom video call. This was different to say the least, but still exciting.
We received news that we were being deployed two days a week to carry out COVID-19 swab tests. Two days deployment, coupled with one day for teaching, we would be in our dental practices two days a week.
Initially, panic and anxiety oozed from everyone, primarily due to the greater risk of catching COVID-19 during swab tests and transmitting the virus to vulnerable family members.
Reduced time in dental practices was also a growing concern, as training and experience would be limited. Many were worried this could affect confidence, competence and future job prospects after dental foundation training. Our training programme director was incredibly supportive and laid a blanket of reassurance across the scheme.
The dental practice
During my first week at the dental practice, I realised I was not alone in adapting to change.
My colleagues who had been there for years were too, as different guidelines and procedures were continually coming into place due to COVID-19.
Increased triage telephone calls, personal protective equipment (PPE) for aerosol generating procedures and fallow times were all new developments. In my first few months of training, fallow and cleaning times were an hour and a half long.
Although I was not seeing many patients per day, I had a gentle and gradual ease into working in a dental practice. Fallow times were being positively utilised in many ways, such as by having tutorials with my trainer, practising on phantom head teeth and learning how to use the clinical computer software appropriately.
My practice has quite a large dental team, with several associates, receptionists, nurses and a hygienist. I was therefore able to learn more about the different roles of my colleagues and fundamentally how the practice operates. This was beneficial and aided my patient care.
As a foundation dentist, the professional relationship you have with your educational supervisor is unique. They are not just your trainer during clinical time, but also a mentor, a teacher and a friend. My educational supervisor has always been there for me when I have needed advice in practice.
It took time to become accustomed to wearing PPE when carrying out aerosol-generating treatments such as restorations and root canals. Wearing a full sleeved gown, gloves, hairnet, visor and an FFP3 mask every time I picked a fast handpiece or ultrasonic scaler acted not only as a reminder of the global virus, but added extra weight to procedures too.
Deployment also had its advantages. Ultimately, it brought everyone on my scheme closer, as we were spending a lot of time together.
With many of us living in the same area too, we were able to travel together. Some of the COVID-19 swab centres were more than an hour commute and so journeys together made the experience more enjoyable. It also meant we as a scheme could discuss our experiences at our foundation training practices while on deployment and encourage one another.
With lockdown restrictions, deployment was almost an escape to see friends.
Helping with COVID-19 swab tests made me feel as though I was part of something much bigger and I liked meeting people from a wide range of communities.
Fortunately, no one on my scheme caught COVID-19 during deployment, which was comforting. I often found that many of those attending the centres for tests were very grateful and appreciative. I felt proud to work for the NHS.
Study days have been a mixture of online and in person. They have been valuable regardless of how they were delivered.
Numerous topics have been covered. These include periodontics, sedation, oral surgery and so much more. Coursework has increased this year for my cohort, due to less clinical exposure time, which has kept us busy.
I am now more than six months into my training and still love it. Foundation training is a fantastic way to become accommodated to the working life of an NHS dentist. There are days where I feel exhausted and overwhelmed, but it is worth it. As the months go by, I am seeing more patients and treatment complexity is expanding.
Each day I learn something new and am grateful that working during a COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be not so bad after all.