28 February 2006

Difficulties finding a dentist? We’re working on it!

Cheryl Jackson, dentist Amit Vora and nurse Lisa Denton with pat

Our Dental School and several dental clinics have together developed Outreach, a better way of training more dentists, hygienists and therapists. Several weeks of each student’s training now takes place in local NHS dental clinics and students, staff and patients all feel this is a better way to train the next generation of the dental workforce. With our Outreach students out of the Dental School and Charles Clifford Dental Hospital there is space to enrol more students into training. Those extra students start to qualify this year and many are expected to stay in the area and serve local communities.

Building from 20 students in 2003 this programme now places all 90 Dental School students in locations including Hull, Lincoln, Mexborough, Chesterfield, Rotherham and Sheffield’s Broomhill and Parson Cross. Further developments are expected as several more local general dental practices, many led by Sheffield alumni, are drawing up plans to make placements available to our students year-round.

Student Cheryl Jackson is seen here at Parson Cross Wheata Clinic, all set to treat Gareth Womack from Hillsborough. She enjoys the opportunity to put her training into practice in this clinic and finds the staff and the wide range of patients she’s met really supportive.

Supervising dentist Amit Vora said, “Giving students a positive experience in the NHS early in their training is vitally important to future NHS services and creating an interest in these services as a career option.”

Patients like it too. Over 95% said they’d be happy to be treated by a student. “Keep him on when he’s qualified!” one added afterwards and another wrote “I was rather apprehensive before the visit about being treated by a student but she was very good indeed.”

Students now qualified and in their vocational training year said: “These placements are better because although the dental hospital is great and you do get a lot of experience here, you need to see what it's like out there. It provides you with a better insight for when you go out to work and joining an experienced team helps your confidence as well” and “I think it is the best way to train students. I’d done the theory and this was like finishing off for me. It didn’t feel like being a dental student. It felt like being a dentist in many ways… It knits all the parts of the course together… It is definitely the best way to train dentists.”

Outreach programme director Professor Peter G Robinson commented, “Together with other developments, Outreach has enabled the School to triple the number of hygiene and therapy students on the course and substantially increase the number of dental students we take to 87 this year. But it’s not just about numbers; this will undoubtedly help to build a dental workforce better prepared to meet the needs of local communities.”

There’s not just anecdotal evidence of success as when the programme had places for precisely half the students a randomised controlled trial was organised to test its effectiveness. Returning outreach students outperformed their purely dental hospital based peers in finding out more about patients' lifestyles and using this information to plan courses of dental treatment better matched to the patients’ needs. These findings are being published and Professor Robinson has been invited to present them at the International Association for Dental Research conference in Australia this summer.

The School’s Dean, Trevor Walsh, said, “This project would not have been possible without the skill and dedication of the staff of the NHS dental services involved.

“This is a ray of hope after all those stories of people having difficulty finding a dentist. While it is no quick fix, this approach has produced newly qualified dental staff who are more confident, more experienced and better able to understand patients’ needs.”