Making the most of your Dental Foundation Training (in a global pandemic!)

COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our lives, scuppered much of our plans and has well and truely made us challenge our future expectations of our personal and professional lives. Foundation training is no exception to this. Dentist Dr Natalie Bradley gives some insight into how to make the most of your training during these testing times.

As a cohort graduating during a pandemic, you will have had a unique and difficult final year at dental school - as if it wasn’t difficult enough already! But you’ve all mastered that hurdle; now for dental foundation training. Much of your expectations from this year will have been from speaking to the year above, reading articles, social media and listening to your dental school tutors. But this year’s cohort of trainees will have, and I’m sure you are all sick of hearing this phrase, an unprecedented experience. With your clinical experience being cut off prematurely during your final term at dental school, to then having much of your first inductions being held virtually rather than face to face, to not even being allowed to touch a handpiece until you’ve had that all important fit test.

Many of you will be feeling apprehensive. This might be because of the worry of not gaining enough clinical experience during probably the most important year of your dental career, uncertainty about your career options or the feeling of isolation when you might not be able to see your friends, families or peers as much as you want to.

But with challenge comes opportunity. This will mean thinking differently to any other year of trainees: to being flexible; to thinking beyond a UDA target; to thinking how you can fulfil the curriculum and be a competent dentist with an all-round set of skills that will set you up for your future careers. So here are some tips on how I think you could achieve this:

Top tips:

  1. Record everything you do, whether this is clinical or non-clinical activity. You might have more time to use the beloved ePDP this year, so make use of it. Reflect on your activities, have more case discussions or tutorials on topics of interest with your trainers. You can use this time to really nail a portfolio which you can use for future job applications. If you want to know what you should include in your portfolio see here:
  2. Find projects to do in your non-clinical or fallow time. This can be research, audit, quality improvement, presentations, teaching, writing articles… The list is endless!
  3. Think outside the scope of just working in your dental practice. Many deaneries are encouraging their trainees in areas of redeployment a day or two a week: vaccinations, care homes, homeless projects, hospital placements, pharmacies. These are awesome opportunities not only to learn about healthcare and how dentistry fits in the landscape of the NHS, but also to shout messages about oral health! Can you collaborate on a project with other health professionals e.g. oral health training in care homes or oral health advice for pharmacists? Not only can this have a positive impact for the oral health of your local population, but these are great projects to write up for presentations, posters or publications.
  4. Shadow. If you don’t have your own patient list, this doesn’t mean other people in your practice or clinic are not seeing patients. Ask to shadow, even if they aren’t directly supervising your training. Learning from others can really add different dimensions to how you approach dentistry and ultimately will help you develop your own style of dentistry
  5. Develop your communication skills. If you are on telephone triage or helping on reception, you will learn a whole new appreciation for those who work front of house in a practice. You can also hone your IT and organisational skills and learn from those who you might not usually have the opportunity to e.g. practice managers or treatment co-ordinators.
  6. Find your support network. Even if you aren’t physically seeing the other FDs in your scheme every study day, find ways to add social elements into your interactions as well as the official training. The networks you create during this year, not only with your peers, but with your trainers and the people who teach you at study days will be an excellent foundation for your future career.

What is most important is to remember to look after yourself and each other! There is support during your foundation year, not just for clinical issues but also for your own health well-being. Please seek support when you need it from your peers, your supervisors and confidentially via Health Education England’s Professional and Personal Support Unit. It is normal to feel worried, stressed, upset and uncertain about the future right now. Do not feel like you have to suffer in silence. The profession overall is getting better at having the conversation about mental health so there is support there when you need it.

Overall your foundation might not look like what you originally expected it to look like. The pandemic has reshaped dentistry, probably forever, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the most of every opportunity you have this year. Work hard, look after each other and this time next year I am sure you will look back to reflect on how far you have all come.