From Dental Nurse to Dentist
In this month’s Crowning Careers article, we hear from Suki Nandra, Specialty Registrar in Orthodontics who shares her experience on becoming a Dentist.
Unlike most dentists, I started my journey in dentistry as a student dental nurse. I sat my NEBDN nursing exam 10 years ago and I am currently a Specialty Registrar in Orthodontics at Guy’s and Medway hospitals.
After completing my A-Levels I, like many teenagers, was unsure of my future career aspirations. I personally have never been one to favour the academic pathway, so I chose to complete a one-year dental nursing course instead of going to university to study biomedical sciences. The course gave me the opportunity to learn a practical skill where I could work clinically in a hospital and attend lectures on a weekly basis.
It is an understatement to say when I started as a student dental nurse, I was very naïve to all things dental and at the age of 18 even the workplace seemed foreign. I would still to this day describe my year as a student dental nurse as one of the hardest learning paths I have taken, yet it is likely the most crucial as it paved the way for the rest of my career.
After completing my dental nurse training, I went on to work as a qualified dental nurse in the orthodontic department at the Eastman dental hospital and assisted postgraduate students. Despite enjoying my job, I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like working on the other side of the patient. By chance I found out that the University of Sheffield accepted dental nurses with A-Levels onto their dentistry programme and after one year I had secured a place in dental school. The University of Sheffield remains the only UK University to recognise and accept the dental nursing qualification as part of a dentistry application. My nursing knowledge and familiarity in the dental environment helped me massively through dental school and luckily made exams involving charting, cross infection and instruments a breeze. Almost certainly, the most important advantage of being a dental nurse before a dentist is that I have a better understanding of how it feels to work on both sides of the patient. I appreciate the frustrations, elations and general emotions that both roles entail during the day. This has helped my working relationships with my team, as I feel a well-functioning team only produces better care for patients.
Since qualifying as a dentist I have worked in multiple specialties (Oral Maxillofacial surgery, Restorative, Paediatric and Special Care Dentistry) and in multiple settings (Practice, Hospital, Community). Whilst working through training posts I also completed my MFDS (Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery) and a Postgraduate certificate in Medical Education.
This year I have embarked on a three-year specialty training programme in Orthodontics. It is strange to think that I spent years assisting postgraduate students and 10 years later I am one myself. I would not say my journey has been an exceptionally hard transition but it has involved a lot of work. There probably isn’t a more fitting individual than a dental nurse to become a dental clinician and it is definitely more than possible for dental nurses to train as dentists; it’s all about taking that leap.
For those interested, my article in the BDJ Team describes the application pathways for dental nurses applying for dentistry roles: https://www.nature.com/articles/bdjteam201824.