When associate dentist Gemma McGarry learnt that the family-run practice in which she worked was to be acquired by Dental Partners, she feared the worst. A few months later, she reports how the newest kid on the corporate block is changing the face of the sector by putting its clinical teams at the very centre of decision-making.
I first came to know High Green Dental Practice Sheffield, as an Outreach student in my final year at Sheffield University in 2008, and from the very beginning I loved the atmosphere and feel of the family-run practice. Margaret and Michael Naylor have three dental practices, all of which have a strong commitment to providing excellent dental care. They also have a passion for supporting undergraduate dental training and the ongoing education of dental graduates when they embark on their Dental Foundation Training (DFT) in general practice.
My undergraduate outreach experience led me to apply to do my Foundation Year at High Green, and after a year this, fortunately for me, it turned into an associate position. The fantastic support I received from Margaret and Michael inspired me to become a DFT trainer myself and I now look after the newly qualified dentists who join the practice each year.
Imagine the shock, then, when we heard we were being taken over by a dental corporate! Many of my friends who had taken jobs with corporates had become quickly disillusioned and I imagined a future of constant clock-watching to meet performance targets, using inferior materials and the loss of all clinical freedom. With no desire to follow in their footsteps, I started looking for a new position.
Far from a faceless corporate
Imagine my surprise then, when I heard that Neil Lloyd, CEO of Dental Partners, was coming to visit the practice! My understanding was that dental corporates manage their practices from afar, where people you’ve never met issue directives on all the important issues, with little or no input from the dental teams on the ground. So for the CEO to take the time and trouble to visit and talk to us seemed a refreshingly different approach.
I attended the meeting with interest and listened to Neil’s presentation about Dental Partners and their unusual attitude to corporate dentistry. He encouraged an open discussion and even gave us his email address in case we had any further questions. His insistence on getting to know every practice and being approachable and accessible impressed me and I decided to suspend my job search there and then and give the new management a chance.
The clinical team at the centre of all decision-making
We’re now a few months down the line now and looking back, I’ve realised that I had been very much working within my comfort zone. We were rather stuck in our ways and had a tendency to work day-to-day without thinking about the bigger picture! Becoming a Dental Partners’ practice has pushed a lot more opportunity our way and encouraged us all to think about how we wish to personally develop our careers.
There is now an expectation that the whole team – dentists, nurses, hygienists and therapists – takes up some of the fantastic opportunities for professional development. For example, I have expressed an interest in introducing anterior composite work, which is an area I’ve always been attracted to. Also one of my colleagues has an interest in Invisalign®, – he is now attending a course so he can offer this as a new treatment option for our patients.
This broadening of horizons also extends to equipment. Dental corporates are often criticised for restricting clinical freedom, but Dental Partners does the opposite. All the clinical decisions are left to the dental professionals and this includes giving us the freedom to choose our equipment and materials. For instance, I have an opportunity to do some work in another Dental Partners’ practice which doesn’t use rotary equipment. On my recommendation, they are now investing in rotary so they are able to provide better, faster treatment.
I’m also pleased to have been given the title of “Clinical Lead” in recognition of the extra responsibility I have taken on since joining High Green Dental Practice. I now handle any complaints we receive and have set myself the challenge of learning how to deal with these effectively and minimise any future complaints.
Dental Partners has also encouraged us to start offering private work, which was something that previously just wasn’t done. The new attitude and approach has challenged our previous assumption that patients weren’t interested in private options and we have been shown how to start the conversation with our patients.
Finally, having access to the wider Dental Partners’ network has made it possible for me to extend my outreach teaching, which is absolutely the favourite part of my job. Now, on top of my existing outreach work, I am travelling to another Dental Partners’ practice in Barnsley to look after their students.
In my opinion, our association with Dental Partners has been a fantastically positive move and the opposite to what I was expecting. Dental Partners has exactly the right priorities, which puts excellent dental care first. The ethos is to create “pleasant, diverse and respectful workplaces with a social conscience” which means our practice is a great place to work.
The opportunities Dental Partners is providing is enabling me to broaden my horizons and develop personally and professionally. I feel valued and supported at work and it’s a source of great satisfaction to me that my employers are investing the time and resources to expand my career. I have the opportunity to give back and help other dental students who are the future of the profession and I am loving every minute of it.
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