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Observership/Shadowing in Dentistry

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”-Tony Robbins

Photo courtesy @indy kadeer

  • This plays a huge role in your holistic development as a dentist than you would ever realise.

  • No matter how experienced you are or the degrees you have the work culture anywhere different(Especially different country ) has to be experienced!

  • Work experience is different than shadowing. Most people values paid work experience more than shadowing, so you want to complement shadowing with some paid / volunteer work.

  • In the UK you need to be registered for a course to work as a DCP (dental care personal/dental assistant /dental nursing), which is usually not that expensive and it gives you a good insight to the working of a clinic.

  • In the USA, depending on the state in which you live, you may be required to become a Registered Dental Assistant/Certified Dental Assistant to work as a dental assistant. Some states do not require a certification to gain employment, most committee values the certification. Once you have experience as a dental assistant, it is encouraged , for you to obtain other certifications for dental assistants such as Coronal Polishing, Pit Fissure Sealants, Nitrous Oxide, Radiographic monitoring and Anesthesia Sedation​ for the support of your applications to join dental school.

  • You will start to grow your contacts , networking, recommendation options.....the advantages are immense..... in dentistry it's truly 'right place right time ' and 'who you know'.... a lot of the times..

  • Learning from experience is something you can rely on to be useful in any exam and interview and also in your work.

  • For improving my implant knowledge base, I intend to observe other established dentist in their implant placements and have a blog section called 'Implant Dairies', Unfortunately, COVID has made this difficult to continue.

  • It has a place at any time in your career and definitely when you start a new journey..... the more number of people and clinics/ departments you can interact with the better - coz there is something new that you will learn from everyone.

  • I wish I had kept notes would have been an interesting read / and the journey is a great reminder of - so I advise you all to do so.

  • Quoting a couple of the dentists in the SDN(Students dental network group -USA) group below. This is so you know your competition and what you are up against and not to scare you. In the US all schools require at least some shadowing experience, but anything above fifty hours should be enough for all but a handful of schools. For anyone looking to prop up their application a bit, do more than 150 hours and most schools will take notice.

"I didn't have any work experience in a dental office (only as a produce clerk in a grocery store) but I did have about 200 hours of job shadowing. Something that was brought up in every one of my interviews was how impressed they were by how to spread out my shadowing hours were (I shadowed every single dentist and specialist in my town - 13 total). Many remarked that shadowing multiple different GPs and specialists is better than the same number of hours spent with 1 or 2 dentists"

"I already have 500 hours of clinical work and 500 hours of volunteering. At this point, which would be better to try for 1k+? "

My experience of shadowing in the UK

When I moved to the UK in 2005, I had worked in Navi-mumbai for almost 2 years and a 6-month senior house surgency in a Government Dental College (GDC), Kottayam (KERALA) and handled cases I had only read in books ...

The 6 months in GDC, I was like Alice in wonderland - multiple facial fractures and reduction and fixation, to severe OSMF patients needing teeth extractions to eat because of betel nut chewing , intermaxillary fixations without LA (this was most traumatic for me and patients alike - here it is done under GA!!), apicoectomies, radical jaw resection, full-on facial reconstruction after accidents and carcinoma.... severe cases of facial deformity corrected with diff osteotomies - Our Consultant Dr Varghese was awesome max fax guy ....although a lot was observation - in my mind I had 'been there done that attitude' !!

Although as good as it was for me as a dentist, it completely put me off from Oral surgery as a career. The cry of the wife when her husband died from suicide by slitting his throat to the poor lady whose face was so deformed that she had maggots growing on her face and would come once a month to the department to clean it all, with the smell from the waiting room, we would know she was... It killed my joy in Oral Surgery.

Preparing for IQE(the predecessor of ORE), I was quite confident with my approach to dentistry as a whole. My theory base was strong ( I had read all the books on the reading list, thanks to my papa, who got a copy of all the books!) and I had prepared well - so for a change in my career, it was not the last min prep... I knew my stuff.... and I thought my practical side was strong as well .... but ALAS... I had lost the last part of IQE (Twice !!) and I needed to prepare again - !! This was a very very difficult time of my life.

To kill time and as I had lost the will to read and also to gain insight into the working of a dental practice in UK , I took the yellow pages (obsolete now) selected all the dental practices within 30-40 mins from where I lived in Oxford (around 50 of them ) Prepared a covering letter about me , requesting to shadow the principal dentist, and send it out . Guess how many responses I got -NONE!! (In all honesty now I look back that was such a poorly drafted letter printed in small font so it all fits on one page -bad move!!) . Also it may be a good idea to send separate letters to each of the dentists in the practice and the practise manager, as the principle is usually too busy sometimes with managing the practice to notice a letter.

​Disheartened I started calling around to try and make a few appointments as a follow up to my letter which actually worked as people sort of remember getting a letter .... so I WOULD STILL ADVISE YOU TO DO THAT - JUST MAKE IT SHORT AND SWEET! Got a few meetings set up with different dentist - all were 2-3 weeks later.

Impatient as I am and always pushing my luck , I walked into a dental practice literally across the road from where I lived, and asked if I could see the dentist and was happy to wait. This was just before lunch so timing was good. I waited , and as soon as I mentioned my name he said ' he remembered the difficult to read letter!!'..... so long story short - I observed him 2 days for a couple of weeks and as I got more confident I was doing all the duties of a DCP- mixing alginates / cements/ working the high volume suction(it's harder than we think !), but it was a great learning for me being hands-on helped a lot. The other 3 days I observed a very sweet lady dentist from South Africa - Leighann . , who was very helpful explaining procedures and protocols along the way, and my point of contact for clearing any doubts

This was by far the best learning I have ever done before an exam.. knowing the theory of how things work and seeing it in practice was completely an eye-opener for me ... cross-infection practices/sandblasting before bonding/ the medical emergency kit/record keeping/patient confidentiality/complaint handling ... it was completely different to what we practised in India.

The first time I saw an immediate resin-bonded bridge fit, was on the second day and I was fascinated with the chairside sandblasting and the bonding procedures with Panavia followed to the brim.

The more important aspects of dentistry like soft skills, patient management, explaining the procedure to the patient in a way they can understand and consent, record keeping, and all about the patient experience - discussing topics like weather and football, native slangs and the common drama they watch and remembering their pet who was unwell..... was a great boost to my understanding of how dentistry is practised here in the UK and I have cherished all the lessons from those 3 months - so I would strongly recommend you to do this if you are new to a country....

So definitely worth taking time out to do work experience as a DCP/ shadowing will help you make contact, join a network, get a leg through the door, understand the system and understand the work culture of a novel society... and if you can try and double it with one in the clinic and one in a hospital setting in a department you would like to join .....down the line - that's a sure shot WINNER!! Maintain those relationships ... invest in them, be useful for them and leave fond memories ( Biryani / a good chicken curry - always works!!). It will be more useful than you can comprehend now.

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