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I think I’ll go and eat worms

I think I’ll go and eat worms

“Nobody loves us, everyday hates us, think I’ll go and eat worms. “

Sometimes listening to discussions between dentists at my speaking events, or reading the opinions voiced online at various forums I have to wonder about the dental mind-set. There seems to be a dominant attitude that if there’s a way of seeing the worst in things they will.

It is understandable for dentists to feel unloved, let’s face it we’re hardly the most popular of professions. Very few others, even in medicine, routinely carry out potentially painful procedures in such a sensitive area with the patient supine and their airway exposed - rubber dam or not.

Dentistry can be an irritant both physically and financially; nobody leaps out of bed in the morning saying, “Excellent! Dentist today! I do hope they find something challenging to test their ability so I can lie there for an hour or two and then pay for the privilege.”

No wonder that more and more dentists choose to spend as much time as they can on such minimally invasive treatments as whitening and “short term orthodontics”. No drills, no needles and a result that the patient can see is a definite improvement, what’s not to like?

Perhaps social media has made things worse. Reading some of the “I’m more miserable than you, my life is worse than yours” Facebook postings recently has made me wonder if previous generations were more resilient or perhaps were better prepared for a lifetime of dealing with, “I hate these places” as a new patient’s open gambit.

In the pre-internet days the only place for dentists to share their misery was the local post-grad or BDA meetings. There the young bucks (yes, usually male) boasted about their gross whilst their more senior colleagues complained about anything and everything from the new practice down the road (unless the principal was present) to the price of alginate.

I recently I asked a group at a meeting to share what advice they would give to young dentists. Top of the list were “emigrate", “go part time” and “don’t be afraid to leave". This does point to a pretty low state of morale.

Everybody else thinks they know about Dentistry. Politicians, medics and now venture capitalists all believe that there are simple ways to “sort out dentistry”. The result is usually a few corners cut that are perceived as unnecessary by bean counters. So far few, if any, have succeeded in improving clinical care.

Add to the mix the dramatic reduction of dentists who have “skin in the game”. By this I mean the fall in partners and owners from 45% to 17% in general practice. This drift is taking us towards a situation where, in NHS practice anyway, associates are one court case away from being classed as employees. It also has a knock on effect on morale. If you have little or no say in the way your (work)life is being run and you feel like a cog in a machine then it does make it hard to feel valued.

I do wonder if the profession does enough to help itself.

As individuals dentists are often insular and divided, unlike medics we are not taught to be part of a bigger team, and are unable to see the greater good. Writing in “The Advance of the Dental Profession - A Centenary History of the British Dental Association”, N.David Richards noted that in the mid-nineteenth century there was a large group of “dentists” who attracted patients by blatant advertising. He also stated that, “at that time the vast majority of dental surgeons practised exclusively for their own individual and financial interests”.

One hundred and seventy years on I see some similarities. The dramatic increase in marketing and the insularity of many dentists come to mind. The rise in dentist-initiated referrals to the GDC says little good about those involved.

The profession has been played by government over the past dozen years where limited contracts have seen practices willing to join in a race to the bottom by undercutting their colleagues. There is little unity it seems except in complaining. The mantra of non-BDA members is “what has the BDA ever done for me?” Sadly there are too few willing (or able) to join in and serve, rather waiting on the sidelines for the benefits for which the members pay. The BDA has many faults and, by virtue of the inherent conservatism of its membership, tends to serve the late majority rather than be led by the early adopters.

Dentistry is a profession that is full of intelligent, flexible and adaptable people who are skilled at carrying out procedures that influence patients’ quality of life. They work well to deadlines and can make instant decisions (usually correctly).

In her research in the 1980s Helen Finch concluded that the majority of people don’t like dentists as a profession but do like their own dentist. Instead of running scared of those who tell us that the sky has fallen in, we ought to embrace the respect that has been hard gained and exploit it. No, the GDC, CQC won’t do it, the DoH won’t do it, the BDA tries but can’t do it, the only people who can do it are individual dentists and their teams. It’s time that all dentists celebrated what they do, shared the fact that they are far more than the hackneyed drill & fill merchants and started to actively convert their patients one by one to the benefit of good dental health.

If not decide how you want to eat your worms.

 

 

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Recent comment in this post
David Chong Kwan

Right on my mood today

You are not wrong. Nils desperandum. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdFkTk3BThA... Read More
Wednesday, 28 February 2018 10:24
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APR
11
3

Is it time to review Vocational Training in UK dentistry?

Is it time to review Vocational Training in UK dentistry?

I was not an outstanding student. I had a very full 5 years at Newcastle but was not famed for my exam grades. Past form being no guide to a cup final I passed my finals.

This was before vocational training, whether voluntary or compulsory. Most of my year headed into general practice within days of graduation and kept their heads down for the next 35 or more years. If they were spared.

Inspired by MASH the movie and dreading being stuck in one place I spent two and a half years as an oral surgery resident, dealing with inpatients, impacted 8s, smashed faces and bleeding sockets. I learnt skills that would help me through my clinical career and life, once you have had to cope with gunshot injuries and Le Fort III fractures not much phases you. I coped with warring consultants, departmental politics and green-gowned theatricals but not with primary FDS. General practice was next and, like everyone else, it was in at the deep end and sink or swim. I bobbed about keeping my head above water, unsure what I was doing for many years.

The hospital service had made me open books, read journals and attend regular study days. There were no such expectations in practice, indeed any day long courses were frowned upon, as you “would not be earning”. The limit to my being mentored in practice was a dressing down when I missed caries, “you could have earned another £X here”.

Post Graduate Education (later CPD) was dominated by what was put on at the local PG centre with Section 63 and BDA section meetings, plus the very occasional trip to London for a day at the RCS.

To cut a long story short, one evening with Philip Greene changed my life and I realised that I had to know more about perio. That’s where my CPD proper started and much of it was beyond “approved by the NHS”.

Occlusion with Higson and the full BSOS year experience, with visiting speakers from the US opened my eyes wider. This coincided with my starting my first practice and nothing had prepared me for that! I found the people on the courses stimulating company who cared deeply for their patients, always looking for better ways to treat them. These people further opened my eyes to a philosophy of prevention. “What you need to remember, Alun, is that you don’t cure caries with a turbine” came as a shock, I was a dentist and I drilled teeth didn’t I?

BUOLD took me back into (mostly) university led teaching which was sometimes undergrad+ but led me to think about solutions. A week on the MGDS course made me remember how much I hated exams. Then came several years of tutelage and discipline of Mike Wise and eventually a spell with the Open University Business school MBA course that helped me to get to grips with my expanding and floundering business.

VT was a great idea but it came after my time. There was something to be said for my ad-hoc, buffet style of learning but I know I could have done it a lot better with a mentor. However VT / FD is facing major problems. Many good trainers have been forced out of a pile high / sell cheap system regretting the regular opportunity to pass on their skills and experiences but unable to square the commitment with the imposed system. The majority do not do it for the money, those who have done are left disappointed and their trainees disillusioned.

New graduates and young dentists face a changing world and it’s about time we looked to the future with a clean slate instead of reacting to the present. The department of health / NHS has responsibility for postgraduate training. The NHS is falling apart and has never taught dentists, dentists teach dentists. Is dental education really one of their priorities?

No other profession has such a poor career pathway. It’s not going to happen unless some enlightened and altruistic dentists make it happen. An independent VT system is an idea whose time has finally come. The last time it was mooted there was some enthusiastic support but the project was savagely crushed under the jackboots of Whitehall.

To take Covey’s axiom and start with the end in mind, what skills will a dentist require beyond 2030? How can these skills be learned? How can the very best be encouraged to deliver the very best care that they can and to properly lead skilled teams?

Here’s what I am starting to see in the switched-on practices. The principal has a set of values and standards that they share and instil in their associates. They help the associates to build a rolling personal development plan where, over a period of three years or so, they not only attend courses that will educate, enthuse and encourage them but also are able to put those new ideas and skills into practice. The idea is to provide a bedrock for their next 20 or more years and to imbue good habits. The associates earn reasonably well, possibly less than they would delivering UDAs but they work with great support staff, the pressures they will feel are the ones associated with doing a good job and they have no quotas to fill.

They routinely visit and observe specialists working and take part in routine, non-judgemental two-way appraisal / audit sessions. If they find that they want to pursue a further qualification they are encouraged. In addition they are shown the workings behind the practice so that they are able to understand how a successful dental business functions. Their communication and leadership skills are developed and enhanced.

How would it be if these Private trainees were able to rotate through say, 4 to 6 practices, over a three year period not unlike a registrar system and were expected to embark on a Masters degree during the latter part of their training?

There is an irony here in that the “corporates” would be better placed to provide such a system; there would be the opportunity to provide different practices for their trainees to work. Sadly they are mostly wedded to shareholder value, concentrating on servicing NHS commitments in an environment which does not encourage excellence - in spite of what they say.

So what’s going to scupper this?

•   Failure to ensure this is a win/win/win trainees/trainers/patients.

•   Egos.

•   Involvement of medical educationalists.

•   No long term plan.

•   No leadership.

•   Allowing the NHS within a hundred miles of this idea.

•   Not enough people with the vision to make it real.

 

Now who’s going to run with it and safeguard the future?

 

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Recent Comments
Ian Gordon

Let's rescue what we have

Alun. Excellent article. I have been involved with VT since 1990 , as a Trainer 13 time , as a VT Advisor for 7 years and now as ... Read More
Thursday, 13 April 2017 09:18
Alun Rees

Thanks

Hi Ian Thanks for taking the time to respond. I think we're in agreement about most things. The problems that you describe are par... Read More
Friday, 14 April 2017 07:13
Ian Gordon

In defence of Corporates!

Thanks Alun. You are of course right that not all Corporates/groups are the same - but from time I have spent with CEOs and CDs of... Read More
Friday, 14 April 2017 08:13
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JAN
25
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Body Odour in the Workplace

Body Odour in the Workplace

If your best friend won’t tell you what do you do? A different problem.

“I’m feeling a little bit under the weather”. Another vague absence. Karen was good team member, a hard worker and, with the exception of a couple of days a month, punctual and reliable. The principal and the practice manager didn’t know what to do; they had tried the usual approaches mixing concern and compassion but had got nowhere.

A recent survey of 10,000 office workers has found that most one-off sickies are due to hangovers with “just hating the job” coming in second. Neither was the case with Karen, she never drank and clearly enjoyed her career.

“Alun, I wonder could you do her appraisal when you’re next visiting the practice? We’re struggling with what to do about her absences.” Sometimes a different face, voice or ear will bring results. This time was a success and I was able to get to the heart of Karen’s problem. I found her to be a sensitive soul, caring and concerned but in the horns of a dilemma.

The practice consisted of six surgeries with one principal, four full and part-time associates and part-time three hygienists. They operated an egalitarian system where, in order to ensure their were no opportunities for favourites or cliques, the nurses moved around on what appeared to be a fairly complicated rota. This way they worked with associates, principal, hygienists, did their turn in the LDU and had a share of being a “float”.

It turned out that Karen’s absences always coincided with her being due to work with Pam, one of the associates. Pam was experienced, had worked in a variety of practices, hospital departments and had also had a spell working in the community. It was acknowledged she could be a bit brusque with both patients and nurses, but her work was good, she ran to time and grossed well. She was recently divorced, had no children and lived alone.

I managed to get to the heart of things when I met Karen. She was under the impression that the visiting Business Coach was there to see her for some sort of disciplinary matter but I soon disabused her of this and she relaxed. We proceeded with her appraisal, which went well, and having gained her confidence I introduced the matter of her absences. She eventually shared with me the fact that Pam suffered from what used to be labelled as “B.O.” - in other words she was smelly. All the nurses were aware of it but for some reason Karen was particularly sensitive and had needed to run to the toilet to be sick the last time that she worked with Pam. She had now got herself into a real state in case the same thing happened again. She had started to believe that she was the one with the problem and hence the absences.

When I asked the principal and the practice manager they both admitted to having noticed Pam’s odour but had presumed that it was a rare event. Bromhidrosis or body odour, is a common phenomenon in post-pubertal individuals and can rarely become pathologic if it interferes with the life of the individual concerned.

So far, so good we had a diagnosis, but how to treat the problem?

As I was there, and Pam was there that day, it was felt that there would be less of an embarrassment if I were to broach the subject with her. Fine I thought, the client is always right and I have to earn my corn. It wasn’t something that I had done before and I am all for new experiences, if it went badly then I would get the blame and could walk away for another three months.

We met after work and I gave myself 15 minutes to achieve the objectives which were, to point out to Pam as subtly but effectively that there had been comments, to find out if she realised that there might be a problem and then work out a way to deal with it.

Her reaction, thankfully, was not one of denial or to attempt to blame someone for “sneaking” on her. She was horrified and visibly upset. It turned out that she had rather “let herself go” (her words) following her divorce and some days it was all she could do to drag herself out of bed and often didn’t get round to showering or bathing. She wore a tunic at work but wore it over clothes and we agreed that a change to scrubs might help. Most, but not all, of the clinicians wore them and as they were laundered by the practice it removed any home washing. An easier conversation than I feared with, hopefully, a positive result.

When I checked in with the practice owner during our regular coaching calls Pam had obviously had a bit of an awakening. The odour problem had gone and she had taken ownership of the problem by taking the time to ask each nurse at the start of her next session with them to please tell her if there was any recurrence.

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