How has dental nursing changed over the last twenty years? The Old Surgery in Crewe, celebrates 20 years of being a Practice Plan customer this year and so Regional Support Manager, Emma Flunt, asked three of the team’s nurses, all at different stages of their careers, to share their experiences of working as a dental nurse.
Newly qualified dental nurse, Heidi Condliffe, only joined The Old Surgery team in December 2022, but has already been made to feel a firm part of the family. She began her career in dentistry as a receptionist at a predominantly NHS practice.
After two years in that role, she says she ‘fell out of love with it’. However, she was attracted by the career prospects dental nursing offered. “I wanted a career more than anything” she explains. “I care about people, so I enjoy looking after them. When I was on reception, I’d see someone come in for an emergency appointment as they’d lost a tooth at the front, I’d see that initial process and then see them over the moon at the end of it. And I got so much satisfaction out of that. I wanted to be part of that journey for the patient.”
She began her training with her previous employer and endured nearly three years of hard slog while she combined work and study. Understandably, since receiving her final results she’s enjoying having some free time after work before she pursues any further qualifications. “I’ve studied for almost three years, so I just want to go home and not think about teeth for a little bit and concentrate on my dog and my horse for a while. Then hopefully I’ll look into doing my radiography qualification to further my career.”
Part of the family
Despite having only been at the practice for a short time, Heidi already feels she notices a difference between pay-as-you-go and plan patients. “With the plan patients, you can tell that they’ve been here for a number of years and they know the dentist and get on with them,” she explains. “To me, it seems like they’re coming and having a catch-up with their mates, rather than to check on their oral health!”
“During my first week I was with Steve one of the practice owners, and he had so many exams where patients were chatting with him like an old friend. And I thought, ‘Okay, we know all of these, do we? This is really great,’ So, I feel that for plan patients, coming in is just a regular thing to them and they feel like they’re part of the practice and they have a relationship with us. Whereas for some of the priority patients it is just a one-off and that’s all they come in for, to get their outcome.”
Ten years into her career, Head Nurse, Chloe Tomkinson feels a lot has changed since she herself was a trainee. “Dental nursing is quite different from when I started. There are a lot more policies to take into account now, which is a good thing,” she admits. “Cross infection procedures are still the same, but everything now has to have a reason and a purpose. So, these days we’re very safety conscious and there’s a lot more to think about rather than just come in, wipe down the surgeries, do all the basic checks and make a start.
Structure is good
However, she welcomes these changes: “I think the profession has progressed,” she comments.” It’s good that care is being taken to make sure nothing gets missed,” she says. “Also, we’re not just doing things blindly now. We know the reasons behind them too. It’s all about patient safety and understanding the consequences of not doing things properly. Perhaps as a trainee I might just have done things because that’s what I was told, but now there’s a lot more thought behind it. We’re a profession with professional structures.””
It was childhood curiosity that drew Chloe to dental nursing in the first place. “When I was on the other side of the chair watching my siblings have their check-ups, I often wondered what the numbers and letters they were calling out meant. I was curious and wanted to know more. I thought it would be an interesting job and I was right!”
However, not all nurses manage to combine work and a family and although she is not yet at that stage in her personal life, Chloe is unsure if she sees herself still nursing in another ten years’ time. “I don’t know long term if it’s a career I can continue with,” she says. “At the moment I don’t have children, but maybe when I’m juggling part-time work and children, I might consider a career change to something less demanding. Although, I think I’ll still always be in something in this industry.”
Someone who’s experienced that sort of change is Michelle Hinde. Now a member of the front of house team, she began her nursing career 17 years ago. During that time the profession’s attitude towards qualifications and training has changed considerably. “I only qualified when I started working here because back then, nurses didn’t need to be qualified, it was optional,” she explains. “Unlike now where it’s on the job and continual assessments, when I started training, you either did a college course in the evening or you could be trained on the job and then you could just go straight into your examination.”
Change of direction
She was encouraged to study for her qualification by practice owner, Steve Lomas, Michelle explains. “Steve had told me he liked all practice nurses to be qualified so they could then go on to do other further study. So, I agreed to sit the exams.”
However, an uncomfortable pregnancy necessitated a change from nursing to reception for Michelle. It was a move that suited her personality down to the ground. “I’ve always been very cheesy,” she admits. “Even when I used to nurse with Steve, he would always call me the queen of cheese. So, a move to reception suited me. Then when I came back from maternity leave, I’ve just stayed there.”
She has no deep desire to return to dental nursing, though. “There are times when you see the nurses doing things and you think, ‘Ooh, I’d like to have a go at that’, she continues. “And then there are others where I think so much has changed since I’ve been in surgery, I’d probably need quite a bit of a retraining to go back.”
However, despite her obvious love for her old job, Michelle would not wholeheartedly recommend a career as a dental nurse. “It’s tricky”, she muses. “In view of what’s expected of a dental nurse, I don’t believe they’re well remunerated. Although we’re quite well paid here, I don’t think other practices are as fair. Especially as you’re expected to go through the CPD, the registration. Pay scales, like for general nurses would be fairer and more attractive too.
“I think there should be a minimum. If we’re to have standards regarding our behaviour, registration and our CPD, I think there needs to be some fairness in return with a minimum starting wage and not just national minimum wage.”
Here’s wishing long and successful careers to all three.