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A dental nurse can achieve success at Master's level

Written by: Kate Quinlan
Published on: 21 Sep 2017

Jacqui Elsden Jacqui Elsden started out as a dental nurse but is now a Dental Education Facilitator and studying for a Master’s degree.

Fainting on the job

In my final year of secondary school, I completed a week’s work experience at the dental practice I attended myself as a patient. Although I fainted while observing an extraction, all I wanted to do after that was become a dental nurse. The dental team back then made me feel very welcome and encouraged me to return after the fainting episode!

My school careers officer advised me to apply for a London dental school for training as this would be recognised nationally. I didn’t really receive any other advice and therefore I applied to all of them and they all offered me a place except the London Hospital. In the 1980s Guy’s and King’s were separate training establishments and, having attended the interviews, I chose King’s College Hospital Dental School.

The training involved working in the dental department alongside the undergraduate dental students following lectures and seminars and of course assessments. The departments each had a senior nurse who supervised our training and development and we also had booked tutorials with the dental nurse tutor on a one-to-one basis. Rotating between each department ensured that all the practical skills were embedded into our training before entering general dental practice.

After the one-year dental nurse training course I successfully passed the King’s College Hospital Dental School’s examination in July 1983 and NEBDN’s National Certificate examination in November of the same year.

After qualifying as a dental nurse, I was asked to remain with King’s College Hospital as a senior nurse in the children’s ‘casualty’ dental department. This role was to manage the student dental nurses who worked with the Senior House Officers (SHOs) in the department while the student dental nurses completed their training and the SHOs treated the young patients. It was a very interesting and rewarding role for me having just qualified myself.

Joining a practice

I left the senior dental nurse position in the children’s department in 1984 as I had married my husband and moved to West Sussex. I was lucky to secure a dental nurse post in general practice in Crawley where I worked for a few years before having my family.

My two sons were born in 1988 and 1990. Following maternity leave, I returned to work in a practice in East Grinstead where the associate dentist from Crawley had opened up his own general practice and asked if I was interested in joining the team.

At this point I wanted to progress to dental hygiene; I decided to return to this dental nursing post to ensure I would be suitably prepared for any application I would make.

It was at this practice that I quickly decided that it was not possible (at this point in my life) to pursue a career in dental hygiene with a young family and therefore continued to concentrate on my dental nursing skills and to find a dental practice closer to home in Horsham, West Sussex.

Peripatetic assessor

In 1997 I began working as a dental nurse in a larger practice in Horsham where I became involved in the assessment of the NVQ qualification in dental nursing. Looking back, this was the beginning of a series of events that paved the way for my current role with Health Education Kent, Surrey & Sussex (HEKSS).

I became an NVQ Assessor to a number of trainee dental nurses who were enrolled at a local college providing them with an opportunity to gain their dental nursing qualification, a role that I enjoyed immensely. It was through this work that I was asked by the college’s Internal Verifier (IV) to apply for an assessor role with the then NHS Kent Surrey & Sussex Strategic Health Authority (now integrated into Health Education Kent, Surrey & Sussex). I accepted this full-time post in 2004 and was responsible primarily for the assessment of NVQ students in Sussex but assisted my colleagues in Surrey and Kent when required. My job title back then was ‘peripatetic dental nurse assessor’, very different to the role that I hold now.

It was a big decision for me to make the transition from being a dental nurse working chairside to being an NVQ Assessor. It required a more than 100% increase in my working week and with my two sons at secondary school, I needed to be sure this decision would not adversely affect them. After much discussion with my family I decided to take up the role on a three-month basis; this was my get-out clause should the arrangement not be successful. Ten years later my role has evolved and developed as changes in the NHS have occurred; the latest change is the integration of the deaneries into Health Education England.

Education Facilitator

When General Dental Council (GDC) registration was introduced in 2008, I was working as a Dental Education Facilitator rather than chairside as a dental nurse, but I still registered. I didn’t mind registering as at the time I agreed that it was important for patients to receive care from dental care professionals (DCPs) that were regulated - and in fact, I still agree with this.

My current role involves planning continuing professional development (CPD) courses for DCPs in Kent, Surrey and Sussex within the dental department and in liaison with the three regional dental tutors, in particular post-registration and extended duties courses. I am in the process of finalising our scope of practice courses for Impression Taking and the Application of Fluoride Varnish in association with the third edition of the Delivering better oral health toolkit.

Our scope of practice courses are modular which allows for flexibility in study arrangements for our DCPs in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. The ‘patch’ is far reaching from east to west, therefore - due to budget constraints - we cannot provide all courses in all areas at any one given time. Instead we are led by ‘expressions of interest’ and we welcome these on our website at

I am involved in the planning process for our DCP conferences which are held annually, usually in July at a Gatwick location. We are now into our fourth year of this successful event which attracts mostly dental nurses but also hygienists, therapists and CDTs. In past years dental receptionists and practice managers have also attended.

I also work collaboratively with NEBDN as Chair for the Quality Assurance (QA) Committee and as an OSCE examiner for their National Diploma in Dental Nursing Qualification. The QA position involves decisions and processes being implemented for the accreditation of course providers wishing to deliver NEBDN’s registrable qualification and NEBDN’s post- registration qualifications.

Another strand to my role as Dental Education Facilitator with HEKSS is that of a Learning Set Facilitator for our DipCDT RCS Eng course. This is a two-year programme of study for student clinical dental technicians (CDTs) and as one of eight learning set facilitators I am responsible for steering my own learning set through their programme of study and deliver some of the teaching alongside other DCP and dental tutors.

Hectic but rewarding

As you can imagine my responsibilities ensure that I am always busy, meeting lots of interesting people along the way. The CDT role involves working away from home for a number of extended weekends throughout the year in addition to my full-time hours. Life becomes a little hectic at times. My working week varies enormously depending upon the focus of the planning programme at that time and as such all I can say is that there is not a regular pattern to my week which is why it is a very interesting role.

I am lucky to work with a large number of professionals from a number of different organisations within dentistry. Firstly, of course there is the HEKSS team where I would certainly be lost without Tynita Patterson, our Dental Team Administration Officer: she holds us all together on a daily basis without a single complaint. John Darby (Associate Dean) is my line manager and Stephen Lambert-Humble is HEKSS’s Dean and the lead Dean nationally for DCPs, to whom I’d like to express my thanks for his continued support during my professional development journey. I also work closely with the rest of the dental department, and of course our student dental nurses and CDTs. I feel very privileged to have been working with this extensive group of people over the last few years.

To be honest, I enjoy everything about my role! I have great pleasure in knowing that I have been instrumental in assisting other DCPs in achieving their goals. For instance: with the post-registration radiography qualification, the majority of students who enrol on the course are a little unsure about the physics part of the syllabus. When you witness a ‘light bulb moment’ and it all clicks into place for them, that’s when you know you enjoy your role. Another example was with a student CDT where he had convinced himself that he was not capable of achieving the Diploma qualification. With a little gentle persuasion and encouragement I was very proud to witness his graduation at the Royal College of Surgeons. It is moments like this that make the long hours seem worthwhile.

Back to uni

Training to become a dental nurse back when I was 17 meant forgoing sixth form and at the time I did not want to study anything else. Since qualifying I have completed NEBDN’s post-registration qualifications in radiography, C&G’s assessment and verification awards, the FGDP(UK) Certificate in Practice Appraisal and stage 1 teaching qualification. Deciding to study for an MSc, therefore, is a personal achievement for me. I am also undertaking the course to demonstrate to my peers that it is possible for a dental nurse to achieve success at Master’s level. I hope I will inspire other dental nurses to do the same where opportunities present themselves.

The MSc in Advanced and Specialist Healthcare programme has been developed for healthcare professionals wishing to develop and enhance their specific professional area of practice. There are currently three pathways: Applied Dental Professional Practice, Minimal Invasive Surgery and Supportive and Palliative Care. All pathways seek to provide the skills to bring about improvement in patient care. The fact that I am not working in a clinical environment but in an educational environment is not a barrier in this respect.

My sons are now 24 and 25-years-old and it seemed like the right time for me to get back into education. I have learnt a great deal in my first year on the course, which has provided me with a newfound confidence to challenge my current practice. I can take this forward in my role as Dental Education Facilitator.

Work-life balance

It is challenging to separate my working life from my family life - there are really not enough hours in the week! I have to be strict with myself in terms of study hours. In the beginning I allowed myself to become saturated with work and study and did not easily separate the two. I have learnt to turn off my work computer and mobile phone at 5.30 pm and turn my attention to my university books and assignments. I now complete my full-time working hours (and no more) and regularly set aside 20 hours of study per week to complete my assignments.

All being well I will graduate in the summer of 2016. We have a number of taught weekends throughout each year with an assigned personal tutor who helps steer us in the right direction. There are four of us in the current cohort: two of us are dental nurses and two are dentists.

My family and friends are extremely supportive. My husband Neil is my knight in shining armour as he talks me down from my moments of panic and builds me up in my moments of uncertainty. Neil knows and understands my desire to succeed with this qualification and delivers my supper to my study door when I have ‘entered the assignment zone’; he even drives down to the local shops to buy more ink and paper when I run out at the crucial moment! My two sons are independent adults now and have great delight in checking that I am doing my homework! How the tables have turned in that respect… My friends also appreciate that I may not be available for that impromptu shop or coffee at the weekend for the time being, however we do have plans for the summer months.

If I do have any spare time I enjoy gardening and holidaying! Gardening allows me to relax and I am currently in the middle of landscaping my garden having moved in three years ago. Holidays are a must as a welcome break from routine.

The future

I’m not sure what my plans are yet for when I have graduated. I am still planning to continue in my role as Dental Education Facilitator with HEKSS. I am surrounded by a terrific team and many other (dental) professionals so there is always someone to talk to - and as such, I don’t miss dental nursing.

I would encourage DCPs to undertake further training or academic study if it is right for them. I would advise to ask lots of questions to ensure you know what lies ahead and talk to tutors/past students. Scope of practice training requires commitment to achieve success which includes a number of hours completing intercessional tasks and patient logbooks. Academic study requires more hours of commitment.


This article was originally published on BDJ Team

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