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A career in oral medicine

Written by: David Payne
Published on: 10 Nov 2017

Mike Pemberton is a Consultant in Oral Medicine at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and a member of the Trust’s Management Board. He is also an Honorary Clinical Professor at the University of Manchester. Mike attended the University of Sheffield, graduating in dentistry in 1985 and in medicine a decade later. He thrives on the intellectual challenge and detective work required of Oral Medicine. His passions are patient safety, oral medicine, barrista-made coffee , cinema , and hiking, especially in the Lake District, a drivable distance from his home in Manchester.

Mike Pemberton

What was your earliest career ambition?
To be a film critic – a great excuse to watch films all day.

Why did you choose dentistry?
I liked biology and wanted to work in healthcare. My brother is three years older than me and studied medicine (he became a GP). I wanted to do something different.

If you weren’t a dentist, what would you be?
Something that requires intellectual curiosity and provides easy access to barista-prepared coffee.

Who has inspired you most in your career?
Patients and colleagues too numerous to mention, but Martin Thornhill in particular. Martin is now Professor of Translational Research in Dentistry at the University of Sheffield, but was head of Oral Medicine in Manchester when I arrived as a trainee. He provided a skilled clinical presence with a first rate research brain and has an excellent way of presenting complex facts in a simple way.

What was your proudest career moment?
Receiving my fellowship in dental surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1989, when I was in my mid-20s. At the time I felt in awe at joining a royal college.

Why did you become a consultant in oral medicine?
I enjoy the detective work necessary to make the diagnosis and the good therapeutic interventions that flow from it. I like the intellectual challenge involved.

What do you love most about your current job?
The way it combines clinical care, teaching, research, and management. There’s no time to get bored.

What’s the biggest issue facing dentistry right now?
To remain at its centre a healthcare profession, rather than drift to become a purveyor of cosmesis. In society now there’s a lot more emphasis on aesthetics and beauty. Providing fillers and tooth whitening isn’t a negative thing, but it shouldn’t take away from the core activity of what we’re here for.

What’s your top career tip to younger colleagues?
Keep learning about what interests you personally, and your career path will follow.

What irritates you most at work?
Too-frequent political interference in the NHS. Maybe it’s the price we pay for living in a democracy with a tax-funded health service. Each new political master needs to show they are doing stuff differently.

How would your colleagues describe you?
Diplomatic. Conscientious. Pragmatic.

Any career regrets?
None. Oral Medicine is a very small specialty, and when I joined it there were even fewer opportunities to join it than there are now. It was a case of waiting for people to retire. I’ve been very lucky in my career.

How do you relax?
By swimming and exercising in green spaces, especially mountain walking. We’re 90 minutes away from the Lake District from our home in Manchester. It’s one of the many benefits of living up North.

What would you like to do next in your career?
I’d like to create some extra time to think about what to next.

Would you recommend dentistry to your children?
Yes, but none of my three children (two sons and a daughter) have wanted to follow in my footsteps.

How do you view retirement?
With a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I hope my health holds out.

Any book you would recommend?
Anything by the surgeon, writer, and public health researcher Atul Gawande.