Becoming a specialist allows a dentist to focus their career on a particular field of dentistry. Usually, this is a speciality that one both enjoys and has an aptitude for. As a specialist, you would hope to have the resources to provide the highest standard of advanced care in your chosen field. Being a specialist can be incredibly stimulating, satisfying and rewarding.
With the changes being introduced in the new dental contract, including the favoured employment of Dental Care Professionals for the bulk of simple work, dentists will need to develop a career pathway to include some form of extra training or specialisation if they are to compete successfully. Speciality training is, however, a huge personal and financial commitment. Therefore, the decision of choosing a career pathway needs to be absolutely certain before entry.
In order to meet the GDC’s entry requirements into speciality training, applicants must demonstrate they have had broad based training, normally over a period of two years of postgraduate study, and have achieved the foundation competences as set out in the Dental Foundation Curriculum. As a result, a minimum of two years post qualification is essential. If one applies for speciality training at this point, the applicant needs to be certain on their choice and should have completed all essential and ideally desirable entry requirements.
Advantages of commencing specialist training early include the ability of younger adults to more rapidly absorb information and swing back into the mode of revision than someone who has been away from studying for over ten years. Often, personal circumstances and commitments are less of a burden at a younger age. Importantly, there is not usually a significant financial setback to earnings on beginning the training programme in comparison to a well-established dentist. Moreover, if an individual is highly passionate about a particular speciality and is confident in pursuing it further, there may be little benefit in waiting for another few years before applying.
However, a more established dentist is likely to have a broader and stronger base of general dentistry before entering speciality training and this can help in understanding concepts and picking up skills. At an early stage, some may not have a clear idea of which speciality they wish to enter, or may be unsure of whether they wish to ultimately complete speciality training; in these cases, it is important to follow an initial career plan which keeps other options open.
Ticking the boxes
Entry into speciality training is highly competitive and there are a number of requirements that need to be met to ensure an application has a high chance of being short-listed.
It is essential to hold a dental degree registered with the GDC, complete a period of dental foundation training and achieve the MJDF or MFDS postgraduate qualification. Varied clinical experience, both in practice and a hospital setting is imperative. Some hospital posts may be more relevant for particular specialties so it is important to pick your training posts wisely. The next step is to aim to distinguish oneself from other candidates. Academic achievements are important; undergraduate as well as postgraduate prizes and presentations will enhance any application. Publications demonstrate initiative, enthusiasm, intellect and good organisational skills. Examples of publications include book reviews, letters to journals, opinion pieces, case reports, literature reviews and individual research findings. It is important to gain experience of some form of research, as this can be an integral part of a training programme. It is useful to accomplish some of this during hospital posts, as access to material, supervision and guidance is more readily available. Audits are easy to complete in a general practice setting. Try to base your audit on a unique topic so it stands out from the usual themes.
Continual professional development through attendance of courses and lectures shows a passion for education. Choose your courses and lectures wisely; ensure these are plentiful for your chosen speciality as these provide evidence of your interest in the subject. Membership of the relevant societies is also highly recommended; you may even consider attending an annual meeting or conference.
Once the speciality has been decided, it is worthwhile looking at online information, talking to current speciality registrars and visiting each teaching school. This will allow consolidation of your speciality choice and will also help find out more about the programmes offered at different institutes.
Choosing the teaching school that will suit you best can be a difficult decision; it is an individual choice and requires careful consideration. Some courses offer teaching by problem based learning, whereas others provide more didactic style teaching. A certain teaching style may better suit your method of learning and hence this is an important factor to take into account. Visiting the dental hospital can give you first-hand experience of the general vibe and environment. Often there is a choice of completing the programme part-time or full time. A part-time course allows the treatment of cases over a longer period; this may be important for specialties such a Periodontics. Part-time also provides an opportunity to continue clinical work in a practice setting and importantly gives a source of income. Completing a programme full-time is quicker and, some may argue, allows complete self-focus on the training.
Discussions with existing specialists, consultant colleagues and former lecturers will offer an invaluable insight into the career and lifestyle that follows the training.
If you’ve ticked all the boxes, selected your speciality and chosen the institute(s) you wish to apply to, you can formally begin your application process. Usually this is an online submission. Ensure that all deadlines are clear in your diary as submission dates for applications are strict. You need to leave plenty of time to work on your application, as many drafts may be required. The application form consists of a number of sections including: personal details, qualifications and employment. The most important part of the application form is the personal statement section. In this section, it is significant that you concisely explain why you want to do the speciality, what evidence you have of your interest, your experience so far and why you have chosen that particular teaching hospital. Each programme will have a person specification to highlight specific criteria. Highlighting that you meet these criteria in the personal statement can work well. It is important to attach your CV to the application. This will summarise your academic achievements and employment. Try avoiding repetition between the personal statement and CV. You are required to submit the details of two referees; it is prudent to have one hospital-based referee and one practice-based.
A good interview requires practise and thorough preparation. The better prepared you are for the interview, the more confident you will be and the more likely you are to succeed. When you receive the news you have been short-listed, arrange a mock interview with a colleague with experience of the specialist interview process. This will provide invaluable insight into what sort of questions you are likely to be asked and some you will acquire immediate feedback on your general performance. It may also be useful to ask the recent speciality registrars of their interview experience. Interviews are usually not very technical but some light background reading on the speciality is recommended. Interview help books are available and can provide excellent information on techniques as well as favourite topics, for example, clinical governance. For the interview, arrive on time and dress smartly. At the end of the interview, you may be asked if you have any questions, only ask if it is relevant. Maintain professionalism throughout the interview, do not interrupt or criticise anyone, regularly smile and thank the panel for their time.
Your first application or interview may not be successful so be prepared for this and do not be discouraged. You will gain useful experience of the application and interview process and this will stand you in good stead for your next opportunity.
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