This post looks at the generic path for specialty training and what needs to be considered along the way.
Becoming a specialist allows a dentist to focus their career on a particular field of dentistry. Usually, this is a specialty that one both enjoys and has an aptitude for. As a specialist, you would hope to have the resources to provide the highest standard of advanced care in your chosen field. Being a specialist can be incredibly stimulating, satisfying and rewarding.
With the changes being introduced in the new dental contract, including the favoured employment of Dental Care Professionals for the bulk of simple work, dentists will need to develop a career pathway to include some form of extra training or specialisation if they are to compete successfully. Specialty training is, however, a huge personal and financial commitment. Therefore, the decision of choosing a career pathway needs to be absolutely certain before entry.
In order to meet the GDC’s entry requirements into specialty training, applicants must demonstrate they have had broad-based training, normally over a period of 2 years of postgraduate study, and have achieved the foundation competencies as set out in the Dental Foundation Curriculum. As a result, a minimum of 2 years post qualification is essential. If one applies for specialty training at this point, the applicant needs to be certain of their choice and should have completed all essential and ideally desirable entry requirements.
Advantages of commencing specialist training early include the ability of younger adults to more rapidly absorb information and swing back into the mode of revision than someone who has been away from studying for over 10 years. Often, personal circumstances and commitments are less of a burden at a younger age. Importantly, there is not usually a significant financial setback to earnings on beginning the training programme in comparison to a well-established dentist. Moreover, if an individual is highly passionate about a particular specialty and is confident in pursuing it further, there may be little benefit in waiting for another few years before applying.
However, a more established dentist is likely to have a broader and stronger base of general dentistry before entering specialty training and this can help in understanding concepts and picking up skills. At an early stage, some may not have a clear idea of which specialty they wish to enter, or may be unsure of whether they wish to ultimately complete specialty training; in these cases, it is important to follow an initial career plan which keeps other options open.
Ticking the boxes
Entry into specialty training is highly competitive and there are a number of requirements that need to be met to ensure an application has a high chance of being short-listed.
It is essential to hold a dental degree registered with the GDC, complete a period of dental foundation training and achieve the MJDF or MFDS postgraduate qualification. Varied clinical experience, both in practice and a hospital setting is imperative. Some hospital posts may be more relevant for particular specialities so it is important to pick your training posts wisely. The next step is to aim to distinguish oneself from other candidates. Academic achievements are important; undergraduate as well as postgraduate prizes and presentations will enhance any application. Publications demonstrate initiative, enthusiasm, intellect and good organisational skills. Examples of publications include book reviews, letters to journals, opinion pieces, case reports, literature reviews and own research findings. It is important to get the experience of some form of research, as this can be an integral part of a training programme. It is useful to accomplish some of this during hospital posts, as access to material, supervision and guidance is more readily available. Audits are easy to complete in a general practice setting; try to base your audit on a unique topic so it stands out from the usual themes.
Continual professional development through attendance of courses and lectures shows a passion for education. Choose your courses and lectures wisely; ensure these are plentiful for your chosen specialty as these provide evidence of your interest in the subject. Membership of the relevant societies is also highly recommended; you may even consider attending an annual meeting or conference.
Once the specialty has been decided, it is worthwhile looking at online information, talking to current specialty registrars and visiting each teaching school. This will allow consolidation of your specialty choice and will also help find out more about the programmes offered at different institutes.
Choosing the teaching school that will suit you best can be a difficult decision; it is an individual choice and requires careful consideration. Some courses offer teaching by problem-based learning, whereas others provide more didactic style teaching. A certain teaching style may better suit your method of learning and hence this is an important factor to take into account. Visiting the dental hospital can give you first-hand experience of the general vibe and environment. Often there is a choice of completing the programme part-time or full time. A part-time course allows the treatment of cases over a longer period of time; this may be important for specialties such a Periodontics. Part-time also allows time to work in practice, which provides an opportunity to continue clinical work in a practice setting and importantly gives a source of income. Completing a programme full-time is quicker and, some may argue, allows complete self-focus on the training.
Discussions with existing specialists, consultant colleagues and former lecturers will offer an invaluable insight into the career and lifestyle that follows the training.
Application and Interview
If you’ve ticked all the boxes, selected your specialty and chosen the institute(s) you wish to apply to, you can formally begin your application process. Usually, this is an online submission. Ensure that all deadlines are clear in your diary as submission dates for applications are strict. You need to leave plenty of time to work on your application, as many drafts may be required. The application form consists of a number of sections including personal details, qualifications and employment. The most important part of the application form is the personal statement section. In this section, it is important that you concisely explain why you want to do the specialty, what evidence you have of your interest, your experience so far and why you have chosen that particular teaching hospital. Each programme will have a person specification to highlight specific criteria. Highlighting that you meet these criteria in the personal statement can work well. It is important to attach your CV to the application. This will summarise your academic achievements and employment. Try avoiding repetition between the personal statement and CV. You are required to submit the details of 2 referees; it is a good idea to have one hospital-based referee and one practice-based.
A good interview requires practice and thorough preparation. The better prepared you are for the interview, the more confident you will be in yourself and the more likely you are to succeed. When you receive the news you have been short-listed, arrange a mock interview with a colleague with experience of the specialist interview process. This will provide invaluable insight into what sort of questions you are likely to be asked and some you will acquire immediate feedback on your general performance. It is a good idea to ask the recent specialty registrars of their interview experience. Interviews are usually not very technical but some light background reading on the specialty is recommended. Interview help books are available and can provide excellent information on techniques as well as favourite topics, for example, clinical governance. For the interview, arrive on time and dress in smart attire. At the end of the interview, you may be asked if you have any questions, only ask if it is relevant. Maintain professionalism throughout the interview, do not interrupt or criticize anyone, regularly smile and thank the panel for their time.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
Your first application or interview may not be successful so be prepared for this and do not be discouraged. You will gain useful experience of the application and interview process and this will stand you in good stead for your next opportunity.