Vipul Modi was on a five-week holiday in June this year when he planned his latest career move, much of it arranged over two days from a beach in Thailand.
The dentist fancied working as a locum in Cornwall and was in touch with Malcolm Barker at recruitment agency MBR Dental, based in Birmingham. Barker identified two practices, in Falmouth and in St Ives. Modi uses an agency to save time and money, and to avoid lengthy negotiations with employers about terms and conditions.
“Before Malcolm I’d do my own research, spending hours on the phone to different practices, or emailing them. It took an unbelievable amount of time,” he says.
“There was always confusion over what was posted in a vacancy and what was actually being asked for. And if you were awarded a position, there was then a ‘lag time’ before you started.
“Now I just give MBR my criteria and they do all the negotiating. You’re not taught how to negotiate at dental school and it can be a little awkward. MBR have all my documentation and information which they forward to their contacts. And they don’t interrupt me with positions that don’t match my criteria.”
Modi chose the agency route after returning from Bermuda in 2016, where he had worked for year. “I wasn’t sure whether to remain the UK, or to move abroad, or even to stay in dentistry,” he says. “I was seeking locum positions, nothing permanent, and was open to working anywhere in England, provided I could find acceptably priced accommodation.”
This led to locum contracts in Manchester, Barrow-in-Furness and Millom, a small town on the Cumbrian coast. Modi moved to Cornwall in late June and his contract in St Ives, at a practice run by corporate chain Smile Dental Care, ends in September.
His time as a locum has given him time to take stock and reflect on what he plans to do next. In October he is due to start a Masters’ Degree in international health management. Dentists seeking to enlist the services of a recruitment agency have many options.
Modi’s advice to fellow dentists is quite simple. “It’s important to find a good agency and a good individual. There needs to be mutual trust and honesty.
“Malcolm tells me ‘Vipul, you won’t get that rate of pay in the Midlands, you either need to move to the North West, or the south west.’ Or, ‘Vipul, I’ll help with sourcing accommodation.’ Or, ‘Vipul, these are the only viable options, I don’t want to waste your time with ones which are not suitable.’
Carl Wetton joined Dental Elite three years ago as a recruitment consultant. The agency, based in Rugby, Warwickshire, offers similar testimonials on its website. Dentist Lucy Nix, for example, praises Wetton for helping her to find a one-day-a-week position at a Smile Right practice in Dorset.
Wetton describes both the “peace of mind” and “duty of care” offered by agencies such as Dental Elite, and how this applies both to employers and candidates. “We listen to people’s needs and requirements. We’re interested in repeat business and having a good relationship, not in making a quick buck,” he says.
“For example, if a candidate goes for an interview and is offered a role there and then, we can discuss with them what they should do. We can also give them an advice sheet prior to the interview. Talking money face to face can be difficult. If the candidate wants to earn a little bit more we can help them negotiate that.
“A lot of our candidates will be relocating. Moving halfway across the country is a big deal, and many may not know where to start looking. We can help them find temporary accommodation.
“For employers, we can reach out to large databases and job boards. It’s getting harder to recruit dentists, and if you’re a smaller practice it’s sometimes hard to find the time to focus on recruitment.”
Many agencies offer other services beyond recruitment. Dental Elite, for example, also handles practice sales. Tempdent, founded 21 years ago by former dental nurse and practice manager Lorraine Nadel, also recruits allied dental professionals, as well as offering training and CPD. Nadel describes its approach as a “holistic” one, supporting candidates from start to finish through its client database.
“We often don’t put candidates through just for the one job they applied for.
Our database enables us to make good matches. We ask candidates what they’re looking for, how much money they want, about any special interests,” she says.
“If we have a candidate who is at a loose end for a day or two, for example, we can offer them some locum work. We can also offer them some CPD if there’s a particular need there.”
Nadel describes the current recruitment landscape as very “candidate driven” despite the fact that many employers have recruitment on hold, perhaps because of the economy, uncertainty over Brexit, or simply due to the summer lull.
“The challenge for any dentist is the fact that there’s a lot of competition out there, and many practices are taking more time to reach recruitment decisions.”
Sometimes things won’t work out between an employer and a candidate, and Nadel’s holistic service extends to supporting both parties through a potentially painful process.
“We have a really good success rate because of our huge network but if things aren’t working out within the first few weeks we recognise that this isn’t good for the client or the candidate, so we are there to offer the candidate support, perhaps by getting them locum work, and to keep the client happy by getting someone else in.”
Agencies can also advise on making packages more desirable, particularly if the position is in a less popular area and amending the wording of a job advertisement to better grab a candidate’s attention.
Malcolm Barker describes MBR, which he founded in 2015, as a “knowledge hub for candidates and practices,” advising on compliance and CQC guidelines, and explaining the NHS to candidates who have not worked in the UK before.
“When overseas dentists get GDC registration they often see it as an authorisation to work in the UK but the NHS is completely separate and they often don’t realise that. It’s good to share this knowledge and manage expectations.”
How might Brexit change the recruitment landscape? Barker is optimistic. “There will a more open market when we are out of the EU, a more level playing field which puts all overseas dentists in the same light. This world stage might benefit the industry and the talent that we have.”
When a man is tired of London he is tired of life, quipped the essayist Samuel Johnson in 1777. But today the UK capital can fray the steeliest of nerves, and Barker helped Carlos Stankiewocz relocate to the cathedral city of Hereford with his partner Bartek, a graphic designer.
“Moving to Hereford for three and half years after ten years in London was a major life change,” he says. “I like a challenge and exploring new things. You wake up and realise you only have one life. I had to convince my partner to leave our London life behind.
“We thought about becoming farmers on the side, getting a property with land, having goats and alpacas, but then decided that this life wasn’t for us. Also, the nearest graphic design jobs for Bartek were in Birmingham and Bristol, which is one of the reasons we decided to move back.”
Two weeks after returning to London in December 2016, Barker had found Stankiewocz a locum position in Bognor, West Sussex, working three days a week. It’s a two hour commute one way. He is now looking for jobs in London.
Stankiewocz’s advice mirrors Modi’s. “Present yourself as more than a CV so you’re not anonymous. Establish a personal contact. Everything goes smoother then.”