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Same but different: UK dentists overseas

Published on: 17 Aug 2017

Career leap: Leigh Bayliss
Career leap: Leigh Bayliss and partner Jenna Brown embrace Australia’s outdoor lifestyle.


Same but different: UK dentists overseas

For Leigh Bayliss, Airlie Beach, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands, wasn’t such a bad introduction to Australia.

The Queensland resort, with its boutiques, al fresco dining and azure sea, is a far cry from his home town of Spondon, Derby, and Liverpool, where he studied dentistry between 2002 and 2007.

Bayliss arrived in Airlie to work in 2009 as a locum, finding the post via recruitment site Dentist Job Search. Before that he’d spent four months in Asia. It was his first time in Australia, and he needed to earn money.

Airlie Beach suited him. He stayed on after his working holiday visa expired. His employer sponsored him, he learned to sail, he bought a 32-foot yacht, and embraced Airlie’s subtropical climate.

Now aged 35 and living with his yoga teacher partner in the affluent surfer community of Byron Bay, 100 miles south of Brisbane, he works at Bytes of Byron, a solar-powered “eco practice” that he helped to set up with a colleague in 2013, and which now has 10,000 patients.

Bayliss, who took Australian citizenship in September 2016, said: “I decided to go travelling because my friends were doing it and I felt I’d missed out. I wanted an adventure after working in the UK for a few years. I had no intention of staying when I first arrived.

“Airlie was wonderful but isolated and the community was quite transient with few like-minded professionals. I wanted somewhere more stable. I’ve got good friends in Byron Bay.  I’m very happy.”

Working overseas, he says, has taught him a lot about how to adapt to a new environment and how different health systems compare. There is a greater focus on cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics in Australia, he says, and less support for people on low incomes than in the UK.

“In affluent outdoor communities there is a focus on looking good. There is a divide between the major cities and smaller communities that feel more like the southern states of America. I also see fewer patients than I did in the NHS,” he adds.

“If you’ve recently finished dental school it’s the perfect opportunity to go out and explore, to get a different take on dentistry. It does take a little bit of fearlessness to see what the unknown is going to bring.”

In October 2016 Amy Langfield moved from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, to New Zealand’s capital Wellington, on a two year skilled residency visa. She now works in the affluent suburb of Silverstream in a purpose built practice, one of more than 100 owned by Lumino.

Langfield felt UK dentistry was becoming too litigious, and the NHS too focused on targets, rather than quality. New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), in comparison, provides no fault personal injury cover to residents and visitors.

She says: “Dentists are ACC registered to offer care, and if I accidentally dropped my drill and cut a patient’s lip we would fill in an ACC form. It’s really simple. People don’t feel the need to sue you. They are more chilled, taking life as it comes.

“Lumino is used to foreign dentists and offers support. The area manager picked me up from the airport. I’d booked Air B&B, but they would have helped me find somewhere to live.”

Langfield currently lives in a house share with three others in Petone. Wellington lies across the bay, a 15 minute drive away.  Property and rental prices are proportionally higher in New Zealand than in the UK, she says, so more people tend to flat share.

“In the UK adults see their dentist more regularly. Here many only come when they have toothache,” she says.

“Also, dentists tend not to do dentures. Patients go straight to technicians and are happy to wait for a week, even if they need a tooth adding to their denture after I’ve taken one out.

“As a client base they are less demanding. And I spend at least twice as long with each patient than I would in the UK.”

What about lifestyle? “When people have free time, they get out, walking in the bush. I live on the beach. I can see surfers, kayakers, trekkers,” she says.

Relocating isn’t an option for everybody, often for family reasons, but UK dentists can sample life overseas by short-term volunteering with a dental charity.

Birmingham dentist and mother-of-two Judith Ghotra has twice raised funds to volunteer for Bridge 2 Aid. Set up 12 years ago by UK dentist Ian Wilson, it runs 10-day intensive training programmes to clinical officers in rural Tanzania, teaching basic extraction skills, infection control, and oral health education.

Clinical officers received three years’ general medical training, typically covering populations of 10,000 people, many of them subsistence farmers and their families in villages with no electricity or running water.

Ghotra says her 2014 and 2016 trips have made her a more patient dentist, improved her extraction skills, and made her appreciate facilities in the UK. The teamwork was also very special. “As a dentist you’re working on your own all the time but there were nine of us together offering one-on-one training, which is really useful,” she says.

Bridge 2 Aid’s general manager Paul Tasman adds: “We send 120 volunteers every year, working in teams of seven dentists and four nurses alongside a clinical lead. We have trained enough clinical officers to cover emergency dental treatment to 4.5m people. If they pass the course, the equipment is left behind.

“We are looking for people who want to use their amazing skills in an entirely different way, who are open-minded and up for being challenged, and who can adhere to the structured training programme devised by our clinical advisory group.”

Ghotra describes how villagers needing dental treatment follow the team round when they arrive. Hundreds form a queue: “Some older ladies had been walking around with toothache for 20 or 30 years.” Another special memory is the journey. One outbound trip culminated in a flight over Lake Victoria in a nine-seater plane.

Similar experiences can be had elsewhere. In Australia, Bayliss volunteered for Wuchopperen health services, which serves indigenous communities.

And yes, East Africa can compete with the Whitsundays. Ghotra concluded one trip with a stopover on the honeymoon archipeligo of Zanzibar. And the other ended with a two-day safari in the Serengeti.


Employer Perspective

UK dentists make up around 15% of the 220 dentists working for Australian corporate National Dental Care, says Christina King, its human resources manager. The chain now has 58 practices nationwide.

 “Australian dentistry is considered to be well regulated, offering good career opportunities and a broad scope,” she says.

The company recruits from the UK via various routes, including its website, job boards, running regional seminars (London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Manchester), advertising in The BDJ, and attending the journal’s dental jobs Expo. It prepares UK recruits by putting them in touch with colleagues at their practice, who can advise on good places to live and how they can get involved in the local community should they wish.

 “They will ask what they are interested in doing outside of work, if there are any study groups they would like to join, and help them to become part of the community in more regional areas,” King adds.

Applicants typically ask about opportunities in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, but many will be open to working in more remote areas during the selection process. The company promises work in metropolitan areas after working for a fixed period in regional locations.

In 2015 Australia’s federal government removed dentists from its skilled migrants list following an increase in dental schools across the country but, according to King, there is still a shortfall of dentists who have between four and six years’ experience.

For UK dentists, entry is now via a working holiday visa or a 457 sponsorship visa, (the temporary work skills visa program, which typically takes between 8-10 weeks to process.)

Visitors can apply for permanent residency after two years. Eligibility for citizenship comes after four years. You must have been a permanent resident for at least one of those years, and cannot have been absent from Australia for more than one year in total.

How different is Australian dentistry? “I think it’s probably the geographical dispersal,” she says. We have practices where people travel hours for an appointment.”

Is homesickness an issue? “We haven’t seen a lot. It tends to get covered in the selection process. Of course, there are changes in life circumstances that require people to return home.”