A corporate calling

RuthRuth Patefield’s career is as varied as her home life. Alongside golf, singing in a choir and performing with Blackburn Symphony Orchestra (she plays the violin), Patefield’s working week is split between hands-on dentistry and a clinical support role at corporate chain mydentist. She is also treasurer of Burnley’s BDA section and delivers out of hours emergency NHS treatment. 

Patefield enjoys the flexibility offered by mydentist, (which has more than 600 practices) and the variety. She treats patients two days each week, and another two supporting colleagues across East Lancashire and Bradford/Halifax.

“I qualified in 1991 and became an appraiser in 2007,” she says. “By then I was working at Padiham Road Dental Practice in Burnley. It became a corporate in 1997, and I became a clinical support manager for mydentist in 2011.

“Because of my experience I believe I’m well placed to off er advice and help to dental colleagues. There may be cases where a dentist is struggling with certain treatments. Often they need mentoring, or help with their personal development plan.”

As a clinical support manager Patefield manages her own diary, arranging appointments with individual dentists and practice managers “What I’ve found with mydentist is that they listen to what you want to do and help you with your development. I was given the opportunity to study how to do implants, for example, and given lots of encouragement. I did a very practice-based course in Leicester and they provided me with a mentor who gave me the confidence to put what I’d learned into practice.

“Because we’re a corporate there are so many dentists you can call on for help and it’s easy to set up a study group and peer review sessions, where you meet as a group and discuss the latest techniques.”

Smart Dental Care currently runs 27 practices across England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, plus three prison contracts. It works with a network of more than 300 dentists.

HR manager Subahu Shah says the marketing, practice management and infrastructure support off ered by corporate makes their practices attractive places to work, alongside competitive pay rates. “Some principals are good at marketing, but budget pressures means they don’t always have time to do it, which isn’t the case with a corporate.”

The chain’s prison contract also offers opportunities to diversify, he says. “There’s a lot of interest from general dentists, particularly from those with more life experience. Every day is different, and you get to work in different categories. It’s not a nice environment and it can be stressful, but generally people are courteous and dentists are seen as the ‘good guys’ helping them.”

Corporates can also benefit specialists, Shah adds, because they offer an established network of potential referrers. “If you have a specialism such as orthodontics you can tap into our network of dentists and set up lunch and learns.” he says.

Darren Casey is head of recruitment at Portman Dentalcare, which has added 20 practices to its portfolio of sites across England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the last 12 months. It currently has 52. “One reason practices are keen to sell to us is because they are fed up of the administrative burden,” he says.

“When you join a corporate you get to focus on clinical dentistry, which is what you were trained to do. You spend less time worrying about the business.

“We’re regularly moving dentists around the country, perhaps because a spouse has got a job somewhere else. At the moment, for example, we’re moving someone from Norfolk to Cornwall. She’s going to a very similar practice with the same ethos as the one she is leaving.”

Corporates come in all shapes and sizes. Charles Quail founded Smileright five years ago and it now has seven UK practices including ones in Cheltenham, Basingstoke, Cardiff, and London Waterloo, supported by around 30 associate dentists.

Quail, himself a dentist, says an increasingly strict regulatory environment makes corporates an attractive place to work, both for younger dentists at the start of their careers and for their more experienced colleagues.

“We are able to provide all the facilities of a practice – employment law, admin support, dental nurses, clinical support,” he adds. “You also get to do more varied work because alongside specialist care, a lot of corporates have large NHS contracts.”

Dental Care Group currently runs 11 practices in London and East Anglia with imminent plans for expansion. Mayur Pandya, clinical director, compares the company’s ethos to the “partnership model” pioneered by retail chain John Lewis because of its approach to staff development, CPD, and reinvesting profits to fund these initiatives. He says: “We are about providing high quality, affordable dental care and enabling our practitioners have time for reflection to develop their skills. Young dentists will get that with us. The learning potential for newly qualified graduates is immense. Everybody is learning, sharing knowledge, embracing peer review and working collaboratively.

“Also, as a group we have an HR team and an Accounts team who deal with all the contractual and payment issues and marketing team which promotes awareness to treatment possibilities. This allows the dentists to focus on what they do best: looking after the patients. We also have a Group Compliance Manager to handle regulatory issues. We also believe strongly in corporate social responsibility, so encourage the whole team to engage with the community, promoting prevention and holding charity events. We’ve also introduced Patient Care Coordinators who can discuss finance options with patients wanting some advanced treatments. Having this means that the conversation with the dentist is more constructive, focusing on treatment options and what the actual treatment will involve, allowing for better informed consent.”

Corporates may offer workplace flexibility, peer support, opportunities to specialise, and a chance to focus on clinical dentistry rather than admin, marketing, and CQC inspections, but the sector has traditionally struggled to be seen as a good career option. “I’ve spent 20 years defending the corporate workforce,” Patefield says. “Colleagues say working at one must be awful, that corporates restrict you, that you don’t have the freedom.

“But you have complete clinical freedom. We have a list of more than 200 labs to choose from. Patients are also given more choice than they are in the NHS. When I had my second son, who is now 18, I was offered lots of flexibility around shifts. Because we’re self-employed we have this flexibility. At the moment, for example, I work as a dental surgeon from 8am until 7pm two days a week, and two days in the clinical support role. It’s easy to ask for extra shifts, including Saturdays.”

Rob Devlin, mydentist’s head of resourcing, says people did allude to corporate dentistry’s potential image problem when he joined the company in November 2016. “But when we talk to dentists we don’t get that feedback,” he said. “If there are issues around with how corporate dentistry is perceived, we hope to address this by providing a great service to our patients.

“These days patients are expecting choice. There’s this expectation that we can provide a full range of services. We offer both private and NHS care. We can offer clinicians the best of both worlds, flexible working opportunities, both full time and part time, including evenings and weekends.”

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