How to solve the workforce shortage Japanese style.

How to solve the workforce shortage Japanese style.

Few stones have been left unturned in the UK as both the NHS and Government struggle to provide the size of workforce needed to cope with demand. There have been promises of extra training places, golden hellos, golden handcuffs, radical relaxation of checks on overseas dentists wishing to practice in the UK, and therapist led services. All present their own unique challenges. But perhaps we have been missing a huge and untapped resource, as revealed in a recent report from Japan.

This is not a miracle of technology, but the story of Dr Etsuro Watanabe (Pictured above on the right). He has now been officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest dentist (male) at 99 years and 133 days old.

Born in October 1924 in the Yamanashi Prefecture, at the age of 15, he moved to Tokyo to become an apprentice at a dental practice while attending night school. In 1944, Etsuro was called up for military service, which took him to China. There, he worked as a combat medic. A year after the end of the war, he returned to Japan and started working as a dental technician.

Etsuro entered a dental college in 1947 and successfully passed the national dentistry exam four years later. After a few years spent working with other dentists, Etsuro came back to his hometown of Oshino and opened his own practice in 1953. The rest is history.

At the time his was the only dental clinic in the village, and Etsuro had no problem finding patients as he built his practice up.

In the earlier stages, he had to do his own technical work and make his patients’ dentures himself, since there were no laboratories available to him. His family recalls how he would disappear after dinner to construct dentures until late into the night. The clinic operated from Monday to Friday, but when Etsuro turned 92, he reduced his operation to mornings only.

In his life beyond the practice, Etsuro has five daughters, eight grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. At home, he loves spending time in his garden growing blueberries, beans, and tomatoes. He says that his healthy diet has contributed to his long and active life.

Although he is not working as intensely as he did in the past, Etsuro explains that it’s his patients that keep him going. He said: “When I see my patients happy, it makes me feel that what I am doing is worth it. I’d like to contribute to the community for as long as I have the energy to allow it.”

While extreme, Etsuro’s story is a reminder that filling some of the holes in the leaking workforce bucket, offers an alternative to simply pouring ever more personnel into it.


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