Global career in dentistry taking off again?
Adrian O’Dowd examines whether UK dentists with a wanderlust are able to shift their career overseas now that the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are easing and sets out what dentists need to know
International travel has been one of the many aspects of normal life sacrificed due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year or so and for UK dentists keen to work overseas, those dreams have been difficult to achieve.
The BDA is carrying out a survey of its members which, amongst other things, is asking them about their intentions to work overseas and early signs are that only a very small percentage are contemplating such a move.
The union says it has had very few enquiries about moving abroad in recent months.
However, travel restrictions are starting to ease and overseas work is back on the agenda, albeit at a slower pace initially.
For some countries such as New Zealand and Australia, UK dentists and their skills are still seen as desirable additions to the workforce there.
Global lure of work
The appeal of working abroad for a UK dentist is multi-factorial and may have been influenced by the challenges of the past 18 months of trying to work during the pandemic.
During the various lockdowns in the UK, dental practices had to close for a time and some associate dentists were not given any financial support from the government which may have prompted some to consider more secure employment options overseas.
Other considerations are involved, according to Teressa Harvey, Recruitment Manager for Lumino The Dentists, a large dental healthcare organisation with more than 120 practices across New Zealand.
‘New Zealand is particularly attractive as a work destination for UK dentists,’ she says. ‘Our ex-pat clinicians say without fail it’s the lifestyle in New Zealand that attracts them and convinces them to stay. It’s earning potential, quality of life, climate and safety.
‘Pay compares favourably. Your earning potential is really only limited by your skillset. Those based outside of the main centres also have excellent patient flow and a relatively low cost of living.’
Pandemic safe haven
Much publicity has been made around New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic, particularly around science-based decision making and keeping its case numbers low.
‘There have been times where New Zealand was one of the only countries in the world with no community transmission, and the sense of safety and relative ‘normality’ of everyday life is unique,’ explains Harvey.
‘This has really cemented New Zealand as a destination of choice – the freedom and the sense of being far from the epicentre of the pandemic. Our remoteness is now seen as a strength.’
Pre-pandemic, the country had a steady flow of clinicians doing overseas experience there, but since global travel restrictions came into play with the pandemic, short term visas have not been available. Nevertheless, she adds: ‘For those wanting to relocate permanently, the door to New Zealand is still very much open.
‘These people used to come to NZ on a working holiday visa – however with the borders closed, temporary visitors haven’t had this option. Permanent relocations are still very much in place.’
Stand out from the crowd
Despite the recent changes to the UK’s position in Europe as it fully left the European Union (EU) from January 2021, UK dentists can still apply to work in EU countries, but the systems will be more difficult to navigate.
The Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree qualification is still highly respected in Europe and globally, so is worth highlighting when taking part in job interviews.
Another way to stand out in the interview process is to stress if a candidate has experience of both NHS and private practice, which is seen as desirable, and anyone with experience of orthodontics is also a highly sought after employee as this specialty is in demand.
The UK’s departure from the EU has had a limiting impact on work migration to and from the UK.
Prior to leaving the EU, UK dentists’ qualifications were automatically recognised in other EU states and vice versa for EU dentists wishing to come to work in the UK.
This is no longer the case and arrangements are still in a state of flux, meaning that a UK dentist keen on moving to any EU state to work will have a more complicated process to follow than before Brexit.
Essentially, a dentist will have to check with the particular country in which they wish to work and navigate its particular processes, system and requirements which will vary from state to state.
Dentists will require clarification from the equivalent bodies to the UK’s General Dental Council (GDC) in each individual country to understand whether or not there are additional steps to take and if their UK based qualification will stand.
Picture: Julie Stephens and Teressa Harvey.
Efforts have been made by recruiting companies to make the process of moving to live and work in some countries as smooth as possible.
Lumino The Dentists, for example, have made significant effort to help practitioners in this respect, as Harvey explains.
‘At Lumino, we have a defined pathway for relocation and support, so we’d encourage UK clinicians who are curious about New Zealand to reach out,’ she says. ‘We offer visa support, both with a licenced third party supplier and through our visa accreditation; bespoke relocation assistance and a competitive package; and support with relocation queries as well as connection with clinical advisors.’
This level of support appears to be working as the company is starting to see renewed interest from UK dentists, she adds.
“When our borders were firmly shut [during the pandemic] for those initial 5-6 months we saw a drop-off in queries. We began bringing clinicians from around the world in earnest again around October 2020 with the advent of the Critical Health Worker Exemption process here, and we’re into double digits now.
‘This, combined with our visa accreditation and the resources to support this process has meant we’re confident in our ability to support people’s relocation. We’d actually like to see more UK clinicians connect with us. There is a natural synergy with UK/New Zealand in terms of clinical approach. UK educated and experienced clinicians seem to have a relatively straightforward process in terms of gaining registration to practice.
‘Because we’re the largest employer in New Zealand (between 11-12% of clinicians across dental scopes and over 120 practices) we’ve found that during the pandemic our resources, communication and network served us really well.’
Global recruitment to the UK
Work migration is a two-way street and internationally trained dentists keen to work in the UK where there have been workforce shortages for some time, have also been affected by the pandemic.
Before the end of 2020, EU citizens did not require a work visa to work in the UK and dentists’ qualifications were automatically recognised, which meant that the UK was an active recruiter of dentists from the EU. This is shown by the almost 17% of the current UK dentist workforce who are registered on the basis of an EU/EEA degree.
In addition, registration examinations like the Overseas Registration Exam (ORE) were stopped from March 2020 and are only reopening this summer, with huge waiting lists to be dealt with.
Bupa Dental Care’s People Director Julie Stephens says that in addition to a shortage of dentists in the UK for many years, the impact of Brexit and COVID-19 has further exacerbated the scale of the skills shortage.
Therefore, overseas recruitment continues to be a priority for the organisation, which is looking at new avenues to help the flow of EU dentists to the UK market with one such initiative being the introduction of an employed dentist model.
‘During the pandemic we saw greater demand from people enquiring about employment due to fears over financial security,’ says Stephens.
‘There was also a need for us to think about how we could recruit overseas trained dentists in the post-Brexit world, with new requirements around visas.
‘It’s a new model for us, and its early days, but we’ve seen some examples of where it’s worked really well within the business, particularly for our overseas trained dentists.’
COVID-19 has also presented a huge barrier to getting overseas trained dentists into the UK market, she adds, saying: ‘It’s usual for overseas dentists to travel back and forth between their home country and the UK to complete registrations, CPD and training, which hasn’t been possible due to travel restrictions.
‘We’ve set ourselves ambitious targets this year when it comes to recruiting talent from overseas. It’s not without its challenges. EU citizens and international dental professionals are vital part of our UK workforce and we want this to continue.’
Read more detailed information in our region-specific advice as of May 2021: