Rachel Derby on what it’s like winning the Best Young Dentist award

Young Dentist spoke with Rachel Derby on winning at the Dentistry Awards 2021, what it takes to be a good dentist, and how her passion for endodontics started.

Congratulations on winning Best Young Dentist – South East at The Dentistry Awards. How did it feel to win?

Rachel Derby: I was absolutely astounded that I won. It was completely unexpected considering the high calibre of talent that was shortlisted this year. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the event. I was at home with my husband and sister when my phone started pinging with people telling me that I had won.

Why did you decide to get into dentistry in the first place?

I was always considering a career in either medicine or law (thanks to Scrubs and Ally McBeal, if you remember those shows)!

My older sister is an orthodontist – she is the only other dentist in my family.

When it came to choosing career options at age 18, my sister portrayed dentistry in such an amazing light, but the fact that it was mostly a nine-to-five job swung it for me and my 18-year-old mind. 

I’ve never regretted doing dentistry. I graduated 12 years ago (so I’m really pushing it on the ‘young’ term), and it has been a wonderful journey so far. 

Thanks to dentistry, I have made fantastic friends, met interesting people, and met my husband. I’ve honed my skills and provided life-changing treatments to my patients. 

If I could speak to my 18-year-old self, I would tell her that she’s making the right decision.

What do you think makes a good dentist?

It’s such a difficult question, as there are so many facets to it. In my opinion, to be a good dentist for patients, you need empathy and communication skills. You need to be able to listen to and understand the patient and their wants, needs and emotions, and then be able to communicate effectively with them.

To be a good dentist in a team, you need to be able to listen and collaborate with others. A little humility is good. Just because you’re the dentist doesn’t mean that everyone else’s views or opinions don’t matter.

To be a good dentist in your own eyes, you need to have an acquiring mind and self-confidence. Always push yourself slightly out of your comfort zone and never stop learning.

Believe that you are good enough and capable of doing those treatments.

Tell us a little about your professional ambitions over the next five years. 

My husband (who is also a wonderful dentist) and I are in the process of buying our first dental practice together. I’m very excited about it and hope to be able to share more news on it soon. 

I am also heavily involved with the British Association of Private Dentistry (BAPD). I sit on the board and executive committee and am also chair of education. 

I’m very passionate about promoting private and high-quality dentistry, so I aim to continue this work in the forthcoming years.

Why endodontics?

I was awful at endodontics, truly awful.

I’d spend hours on the procedure, trying to do my best. I would cross my fingers and offer up a prayer to the endo gods when I would take that final periapical radiograph (PA), and my heart would always sink.

I knew that this was a weakness of mine, and that needed to change, so I enrolled in an endodontic course with Richard Porter and Raheel Malik at Aspire. It was a fantastic course. What I realised was that I just didn’t understand the topic. 

After finishing that course, I started my MSc with Mike Horrocks at Simplyendo. He has such a flare for teaching and even made the topic of metallurgical properties of endo files interesting. 

Nowadays, I am more confident in my endodontic treatments, but I still pray to the endo gods when I take that postoperative PA.

Old habits die hard!

What do you get up to away from dentistry?

I have a beautiful and amazing two-year-old daughter called Niamh. At the moment, all my free time is spent with her and my husband.

I love watching the world through her eyes. Currently, everything is a question of ‘what’s that’, and we are never far away from a park, pool, pizza or ice cream, as those are her favourite things. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career so far that you could pass onto any aspiring dentists?

Always check that the lab work is for the right patient before you do an extraction and a denture fit, but perhaps that is a story for another day!

For young dentists, I would advise them to spend time honing their skills. Become world class at the basics. Be able to diagnose caries, read radiographs, apply rubber dam and have a predictable bonding and filling technique.

These skills are extremely important to have before you move onto more complicated work.

Get a camera and take pictures of your work and reflect on them. You don’t need to put them up on Instagram. If you feel confident to, then that’s wonderful, but the most important lesson is that you look at your work and learn. 

To enter the Dentistry Awards, visit dentistry.co.uk/the-dentistry-awards.

Follow Dentistry.co.uk on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

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