Laying the foundations

I awoke on August 1st, 2011 with a skip in my step. It was the start of my career; my first day of foundation training. Final exams were long behind me and I was ready and raring to learn my trade.

Desperate to make a good first impression, I made sure that I was perfectly presented. Washed. Shaved. I’d even ironed a shirt! The picture of ‘young professional’, I set off on my bike on a glorious morning of blazing sun and blue skies. What a day it was set to be.

What a day indeed

It didn’t take long for everything to unravel. Within minutes, the blue skies had been invaded by ominous grey. I peddled desperately to beat the rain but it was no use. The heavens opened and I was soaked through. I determinedly cycled on and, blinded by the torrential rain, I rode through a deep pot hole, puncturing both of my tires.

I pushed my bike the last mile and arrived at the practice a bedraggled mess. A soggy young man with a broken bike and a line of mud up the back of his previously pristine shirt. Not the first impression I was aiming for.

I scraped through the day, trying desperately to fix these new and unfamiliar things called teeth. I’m not sure that I did anything that was of much help to anyone but everyone was pleasant to me and after my sodden start, I only wanted to survive.

Indeed, I did survive and was given a lift by my new trainer who kindly spared me from having to push my bike the five miles home.

Apart from my very dodgy first day, I had a fantastic year as a foundation dentist. All of my colleagues were kind and welcoming. My trainer was incredibly supportive and gave me a solid grounding in general practice. My scheme organiser and fellow trainees made the study days a joy to be a part of.

It was such a great experience and I would love to wind the clock back and do it again. If you’re currently a foundation dentist, do not take this year for granted. The support and teaching you will receive is invaluable.

Key learning objectives

Foundation training is key to your development as a professional. As the name suggests, it’s your chance to lay the foundations for a fantastic career within dentistry. So let’s consider where you need to be by the time you finish. What must you learn in this year?

The first thing to say is that you need to become consistently competent at the basics. Preparing a cavity. Simple extractions. Crown preparations. When you start the year, most of these clinical tasks are going to feel daunting. Rather than drilling, you will spend hours tickling teeth. This is not unusual and you are not alone. When I finished uni, I was particularly nervous about extractions. After my foundation year, I wasn’t brilliant but I had built some confidence and that’s where you need to be.

Don’t worry about doing anything complex and don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes. But after foundation training, you should be able to provide simple treatments to a competent standard. You should be providing what I would describe as ‘single tooth dentistry’.

If you can provide ‘single tooth dentistry’, you’re going to be fine as an NHS associate. The NHS funding system clearly places restrictions on what you can provide to your patients. This means that during your foundation year, you must learn how to provide real world dentistry. Many of your supervisors at university did not work in general practice and therefore couldn’t teach you how to work within the UDA system. They will have taught you how to treat patients ideally but UDAs require you to be more realistic. If you want to do well in general practice, you must learn how this system works.

The next thing that you will hopefully get out of foundation training is to have learnt a bit about yourself as a dentist. You should be getting an idea for what you like doing and what you’re good at. You might enjoy restoring teeth with composite or you might enjoy oral surgery. Don’t limit your future options yet but it’s important to know a bit more about yourself.

Finally, I believe that after foundation training, you must have an idea of where you’re going. You don’t need to have your whole career mapped out. (Although, wouldn’t that be nice? It certainly would simplify things.) But it’s great if you have a rough idea of where you want to take your career. At the very minimum, you need to know what you’re doing next.

New dawns

This will feel scary but it’s also exciting. When you complete foundation training, it’s the end of a chapter but it’s the exciting start to another. Make the most of foundation training. Enjoy it. Then, when it’s over, look sharp, smarten up and set off on your bike to a new dawn. Sure, you’re going to encounter rain. Some days you will get soaked and pick up a puncture or two. But there will be plenty of blue skies as well.

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