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Rising to the challenge? The future of work for young dentists

Blog Author Harman Chahal

Blog Date 25/10/2017



It's been hard to miss the news about the BDA survey where it was reported that 50% of associates who are working in the NHS plan to leave it over the next five years.

Ten per cent of the surveyed young dentists said they want to leave dentistry entirely, and about the same number said they want to move overseas. 

This doesn't paint a pretty picture of the future of NHS dentistry. It would be difficult for the government to continue to deliver NHS dentistry with such a blow to the numbers in the workforce.

But is this clearly the catastrophe it seems for NHS dentistry? Maybe, but maybe not.

The future of training as envisaged by COPDEND involves all dental undergraduates training as dental therapists, with a number of these moving on to studying dentistry. The pros and cons of this are more than an entire blog dedicated to it can cover, but this is not an overnight solution to a more immediate workforce problem.

The more realistic outlook is that most of the dentists who were surveyed are likely to carry on practising as they are (for now).

Anecdotally, many young dentists have said to me they are unhappy and they are stressed out, and some are seriously thinking about changing careers entirely. But many feel a little bit trapped by the investment they've put into training as a dentist, and many also have financial commitments, so it is not a decision anyone can take lightly.

Some are making it work, forging 'portfolio careers', doing a range of things (some even doing a day or two a week of work outside dentistry).

Our workforce is quickly becoming female-dominated, in the under 35 age group, 57 per cent are now female. Some of those women (and some men) may choose to work part-time, to be able to juggle a family, or other commitments – caring for older relatives, perhaps. 

How all of this will affect the future of the NHS is uncertain.

With an increasingly fluid workforce, it is even harder to predict how this might impact on the traditional role of a dental associate, and the future of practice-owning.

It won't be one big change that moves people to act. It always the small things adding up. We all experience this in practice. Those patients who start brushing better, who stop smoking. We are kidding ourselves if that happened just because of us.

But we played a part. It'll be those small inconveniences, those individual incidents with patients or principals, and the DLP that slowly erode the ability to carry on in the system you are in. That is what will make people change.

Young dentists are smart. Many I've spoken to are now thinking about looking outside of the NHS, to provide their major, or perhaps sole, source of income. It's a different way of working, and it's not what we thought we signed up for, but there are opportunities there.

It's not for everyone, some I speak to are making it work within the NHS, and that's great for them. They know times are difficult and may get more difficult, but they've figured out a pattern they can work to.

The future is uncertain – that's a truism. You can either see it as a challenge to rise to, or you cut and run now – the choice is up to you.

Harman ChahalHarman Chahal

Chair, Young Dentists Committee

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