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By Dr Nadia Nadim

Practical tips to hit the ground running in DFT

5 min
Female dentist wearing a mask with patient

If you’re a final year dental student and you’ve missed out on clinics and placements as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be feeling some added nerves as you take the next step into DFT this year.

Perhaps your concern is that you haven’t had as much practice as you should, or you're worried about the time passing since you last saw a patient.

Hearing your concerns, Dental Foundation trainee Dr Nadia Nadim has put together a useful article on the topic of deskilling, with practical tips you can implement now to ensure you hit the ground running for DFT.

Practice makes perfect

Worrying about deskilling is very natural. Even me and my fellow Foundation Dentist’s worry at times about not having enough clinical practice. However, from past experience, returning to dentistry is just like riding a bike. With a bit of practice, it comes back to you.

Yes, of course at first you will be a bit jittery and you may not be as confident as you once were, but that’s why you won’t be thrown into the deep end on your very first day.

In your first few weeks of DFT, you’ll be asked to shadow your Educational Supervisor (ES) so that you get a gist of what it’s like to work in an NHS practice. You definitely won’t be asked to start doing treatments straight away.

Instead, you’ll be given a chance to re-familiarise yourself with how to see patients, communicate with them and create new treatment plans.

Refreshing your skills

Within my first two weeks, I had a Clinical Refresher Study Day, and its main aim was to cover all basics prior to seeing patients. This meant we were shown how to communicate effectively and how to complete a full examination without missing anything out (such as charting, BPE, occlusal assessment, caries diagnosis, radiograph assessment and much more).

As you can imagine, this was such a great way to recap everything that I had learnt at university as it had been a few months since I had last seen a patient.

If you don’t have a study day that covers this, don't worry. You can always run through this as a tutorial with your ES instead. Throughout DFT, you’ll have plenty of tutorials based on clinical and non-clinical topics.

I would recommend that you create a list of tutorials on topics you want to cover. This way, you and your ES know exactly what to focus on when you start working.

What to expect

My initial list included topics such as treatment planning, periodontal assessment and the new guidelines, diagnosis, interpreting radiographs and sensibility testing. You will already have tons of knowledge on the topics from your list, but there's no harm recapping them as it puts you in a better position when seeing patients.

You also pick up good tips from your ES which will help you feel confident with the abundance of knowledge that you have.

I also went back to basics and practiced on extracted teeth. I did fillings, drilled teeth to find canals for root canal treatment and practiced cutting teeth for crown preparations. This was such a great way to review what I had already known, and I would highly advise you all to do the same when you first start working.

This is something that I still do. If I have any cancellations, I take out some extracted teeth to work on. It’s a good use of your time and you can never have enough practice.

The importance of study days

Study days (as mentioned above) are a fantastic way to learn as well. These are compulsory sessions where you and your entire scheme get together for hands-on practical sessions, tutorials and lectures that cover multiple topics - from treatment planning to post-cores and root canal treatments.

It’s a great way to learn as a group, it’s fun (feels a bit like uni!) and you pick up helpful information along the way.

Here are a few things that you could do to prepare yourself for work:

  • Watch webinars – currently there are some great online webinars based on all dental topics, and they’re being hosted by some of the best dentists/specialists/companies in the field. Use these webinars as revision or to pick up little tips and tricks for when you start working
  • Go over your notes – your revision material will be very useful to you when you start working. I found my notes on prosthodontics and oral medicine from university to be particularly helpful
  • Compile a list of areas that you are confident/underconfident in and rate yourself - this helps you determine areas that you might need more practice/help in and you can try and create a learning-plan with your ES when you first start working.

A few weeks after you have settled in and you feel ready, you get the chance to do simple assessments that test your ability to work in a safe manner, and these really help to boost your confidence. Although you may have been out of practice for a few months, remember, you’ve been training for years. Trust the process and soon you’ll be so glad to get back into doing what you do best.

I finally want to say, it’s completely acceptable to have your worries and fears about deskilling - we’ve all had these same concerns. However, you’ll be surrounded by people want to help you and want the best for you. You’ll be eased into your new job, and your ES will be there whenever you have questions or need help with tricky treatments.