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Where have all the dental staff gone? Why recruitment struggles in dentistry are a cause for concern

The ad has been up for weeks and only a handful of applicants have applied. Most aren’t qualified and some could be suitable but surely there’s got to be more interest. It’s a common thought expressed by dental practices up and down the country. Where are the nurses and dentists and why don’t they want to work with us? Recruitment hasn’t always been so difficult and it begs the question, what has changed?

Students are changing

There’s no denying that the entry requirements for most healthcare professions have changed drastically in the last couple of decades. Courses like dentistry have become so competitive that only students with straight A grades are normally considered. Approximately 40 years ago, entry requirements were somewhat more relaxed and students were assessed holistically. If you had a C but interviewed well, that was still acceptable. Other important qualities such as communication skills and professional resilience are difficult to assess during an initial university interview which creates a pool of candidates who we know are incredibly smart and ambitious but can they survive in a professional environment? How will a candidate fare when a patient is incredibly distressed and angry? Rattling off every nugget of information you remember about their condition isn’t going to calm them down. Dental teams find a lot of qualified candidates are interested but they don’t quite fit the needs of the practice.

Specialising too soon

A lot of dental applicants are keen to go straight into specialist areas, often overlooking the general aspects of dentistry. That ambition is honourable but employers are looking for someone who has experience and can demonstrate their skill in daily practice. The competitive nature of these courses mean that they attract competitive students always looking to be the next best expert. Ambition and skill are desirable but they’re not enough on their own. Employers are impressed by qualifications but are first and foremost looking for real experience that demonstrates ability to cope with day to day practice.

Wages

Despite the fact that nurses dedicate a considerable chunk of their time obtaining qualifications to become a dental nurse, it can be frustrating to see entry level positions offering salaries of only £15k a year. Salaries increase gradually based on experience but are normally capped at the £30k mark. Other nursing professions tend to offer better packages with the opportunity to earn much more if they become nurse consultants or matrons. With the added costs of paying for insurance, CPD and registration, being a dental nurse can be quite costly. These are just some of the many reasons as to why there may be a lack of nurses since there appear to be a lot of sacrifices necessary to enter the profession. These setbacks mean that there aren’t enough people entering the profession to meet patient demand.

Change starts at home

Practices need to recognise the valuable contribution that nurses make and to compensate them appropriately. If the recruitment crisis continues to worsen, employers must create incentives that attract people to the profession, not repel. Nurses are integral to the team and without them, a practice cannot succeed.

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