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Dentistry – a ticket to the world?

Written by: By Adrian O'Dowd
Published on: 22 Nov 2019

Dentistry – a ticket to the world?

Perhaps one of the less well-known advantages to working as a dentist is its global transferability.

Dental professionals, once qualified, can consider continuing their career in many countries and it seems this option is starting to appeal to more mature professionals as well as the younger generation who might be more expected to have the travel bug.

Uncertainties in UK recruitment for dentists, an unpopular dental contract and limits to potential earnings for dentists are all factors that may play a part in some dentists considering a career move overseas.

Interest in overseas work

Paul Holborn, director for Blue Sky People, which helps dentists find positions overseas says the numbers of inquiries he receives about working overseas is relatively stable, but those interested parties are not always who you might expect them to be.

‘Demand and interest levels are stable. We always have inquiries from those younger, early career dentists who feel they want to do a stint working internationally,’ he explains.

‘Where we are starting to see some increased interest levels is from those mid-career professionals for whatever reason, whether that’s lifestyle or something else.

‘Historically, what we see with clinicians is that because they are academic in nature, they tend not to have taken those gap years to travel. There is a batch of people who 10 to 15 years into their career feel there is something that is missing in terms of a challenge.’

His company’s primary markets are Australia and New Zealand because these countries share similar approaches in dentistry and both focus on high-quality care for patients in addition to the fact that it is relatively straight forward for UK-trained dentists to obtain registration to practice there.

It is estimated that around a quarter of practising dentists in Australia, for example, are migrants, often from countries such as the UK, Republic of Ireland, and Canada due to the fact that dentists from these countries can have their qualifications directly recognised for practise and can register fully as a dentist in Australia.

Appeal of overseas

Teressa Sullivan, Recruitment Manager for Lumino The Dentists, a large dental healthcare organisation with more than 120 practices across New Zealand, says the appeal of overseas work is easy to understand.

‘People are curious and want to see the world, and it’s amazing that being in the dental industry is one of the careers that allows you to do this,’ she says.

‘New Zealand is safe, with good weather, amazing food, wine and craft beer, festivals and outdoor living and adventures like nowhere else. Whether it’s a working locum holiday, or a permanent relocation, New Zealand remains a popular destination for clinicians.

‘People relocating permanently often comment on the lifestyle and NZ being a great place to raise a family, and those on working holidays love the ability to travel and experience some of the most beautiful places in the world.’

The age profile of dentists keen on a change of scene is fluid, she adds, saying: ‘We have a steady flow of UK trained dentists each year – it’s a real mix of temp/locum people and those relocating permanently.

‘Lumino has 125+ practices right across New Zealand so we’re a popular option for people. What I’ve seen is it’s a real mix and cross-section also – people at all stages in their careers.’

Flexibility to secure jobs

Dentists interested in a move must be realistic about the opportunities and appreciate that securing a job is never going to be as straight forward as doing so in the UK, cautions Holborn.

‘We place up to 50 dentists per year but we talk to 10 times that number that express an interest in going,’ he says. ‘The reality of the logistical challenge of moving 11,000 miles away from friends and family means the people who are really serious about going have already visited the countries or have relatives out there and have a keen appetite to go and are motivated.

‘In the Australian market, the current sponsored visas are not available for those big locations such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but they are for locations where the need is, meaning not necessarily rural locations, but outside of the major cities.

‘We have got dentists that will live 45 minutes or half an hour out from where they are working so they might be half an hour from central city locations for social life. A large percentage of the people we take out to Australia are seeking that coastal lifestyle.’

Dentistry – a ticket to the world?

Earnings boost

Dentists who make the move can expect to earn significantly more than they would in the UK, as Sullivan says: ‘From a lifestyle perspective, dentists and specialists can live a very comfortable lifestyle in New Zealand. Earnings aren’t capped - but your skillset, and treatment repertoire are a major factor in your earning potential.

‘One aspect people should take into consideration is where they would like to be based – renting and buying homes in larger cities can be quite pricey. Instead - imagine doing a job you love in a place that’s close to the beach or mountains – your lifestyle in rural centres or smaller cities can be incredible.’

Holborn adds: ‘We would expect a dentist who is working in a NHS or mixed NHS and private practice to earn 10-15% more over there than they would likely earn in the UK.

‘It’s difficult to compare because the cost of living expenses vary significantly in Australia and the cost of property and rental in coastal locations tends to be a lot cheaper but things like food and clothing can perhaps be a bit more expensive. We say to people they are likely to have more disposable income.’

Help at hand

Making the move overseas may seem daunting but there is a significant amount of support available.

Holborn explains: ‘The clients we work with are up to speed with the visa process and can support with immigration and the relocation of dentists. There is a lot of help and support to help smooth the way for people making the move.’

Examples of dentists working abroad

Consultant orthodontist Dr John Perry, originally from Hampshire, qualified as a dentist in 2009 from University of Glasgow, and is now happily settled in New Zealand’s Christchurch working three days a week in private practice and a day as a consultant orthodontist in a hospital.

After two years in the UK doing foundation training, his keenness to travel led him to a job working in New Zealand in private practice before returning to the UK for another year working as a senior house officer in oral and maxillofacial surgery and then gaining a Master of Orthodontics and a cleft and craniofacial orthodontic fellowship, after which he returned to New Zealand.

‘I always wanted to travel and do dentistry abroad at some point,’ says Perry.

‘I went to New Zealand and ended up in a town called Ashburton. I met my girlfriend there. We’ve been together ever since and she wanted to travel and see the UK, but she was keen to go back and be near her family. That’s really why I’m here now for the long-term.

‘I have been settled here now for almost two years. It’s a great place to work and a great lifestyle. Dentistry is mainly private here and you potentially have a better work/life balance and you are better rewarded for the work you do.’

Dr Mohanad Abu-Mughaisib is a dental officer with HM Armed Forces, currently based in Belgium where he provides dental care to serving members of the forces, their dependents, and any other entitled British civilians based there.

Born in Edinburgh, his family moved around before he qualified in 2001 with a degree in Stomatology from the University of Health Sciences in Lithuania.

‘One of the main reasons I joined the military in the first place was to have the opportunity to practice dentistry in different countries while serving with HM Armed forces and enjoy what each location had to offer culturally, professionally and socially,’ says Abu-Mughaisib.

‘I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to travel around the world and do the job I am trained to do. Serving with HM Armed forces, you are offered a fantastic support package every time you are assigned overseas.

‘Having said that, there are still many challenges that anyone thinking of taking the overseas life route might need to consider when committing to such a lifestyle, for example, the psychological effects from having to move to new and sometimes far off places far away from your loved ones back at home.’

Dr Helen Vaughan has for the past 12 years been the sole dental practitioner to the communities of Christmas Island and the Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean.

After qualifying from Bristol Dental School in 1986, she completed a Masters in Community Dental Practice from University of London and in 2013, achieved a Graduate Diploma in Forensic Dentistry from the University of Western Australia.

In her final year as a dental student, Vaughan chose to visit India for her elective, based at a dental institute, which seems to have inspired her love of travel.

‘We worked as volunteers at an orphanage in Tamil Nadu to assist their busy dentist – an amazing experience,’ she explains.

‘Prior to moving here, I have lived and worked in many places – several locations in Australia, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, and Ireland. I have also spent periods of time in India, Kenya, Israel and Romania as a volunteer dentist. ‘What attracted me to live overseas was the opportunity to find out how other people live, work and solve day-to-day problems while also being able to use my dental skills.’

Vaughan highly recommends overseas work, saying: ‘The opportunities I have had to use my dental skills to improve people’s oral health, to provide dental care in areas where there has been very limited or no access to care, are priceless.’

Dr Ashok Desai, originally from Kenya, qualified as a dentist in 1975 from the University of Dundee.

‘My home was Kenya and I came back after graduation to see the family and intended to return back to the UK to work when I was introduced to an English dentist with a practice in Nairobi,’ he says.

‘They offered me an associate-ship for a year which I accepted. At the end of the year I was offered a partnership. I am now the senior partner in a four-chair practice.’

Asked what attracted him to working overseas, he says: ‘It was the chance of a lifetime to work in Kenya, doing what I still do. The kind of practice I was joining meant that I would meet and treat a very cosmopolitan patient base.

‘There is always a challenge in working abroad, especially in developing countries where one has a lot of obstacles to overcome.

‘Even though I was born in Kenya, I have British citizenship and so in order for me to work here, I was required to apply for a work permit which I have had to renew every two years. Within the last year I have been granted permanent residency that allows me to remain and work in Kenya without a work permit.’