Associate dentist Gemma McGarry candidly discusses her experience and initial fears of working in a family-run practice that was recently acquired by a dental corporate, and how everything is actually now working out for the better.
Firstly, as a practising associate, do you consider dentistry to be a lonely place to work?
It may well be for some people, but in my experience, I can honestly say that has not been the case. However, I do believe that people, including myself, can easily get stuck in their ways and continue to keep working within their comfort zones, going through the motions on a day-to-day basis without thinking about the bigger picture.
High Green Dental Practice – the practice I work in – has helped push a lot more opportunity our way and encouraged the wider team to think about how we wish to develop our careers. I’d put that down to the ownership structure and the freedom we’re encouraged to find. There is now an expectation that the whole team – dentists, nurses, hygienists and therapists alike – 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, and have been encouraged to pursue this.
The level of communication and interaction required in order to pursue successful career development, means that there is no reason for dentistry to be a lonely place and I would never consider myself or my team as ‘working in silo’.
Does being an associate – and potentially working in multiple locations – mean you might not have a connection with the teams and patients you work with?
Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t. My previous understanding had been 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. My practice is owned by Dental Partners, and the CEO, Neil Lloyd, took the time and trouble to visit and talk to us, which seemed a refreshingly different approach.
Now I have access to a wider network and it has been possible for me to extend my outreach teaching, which is absolutely the favourite part of my job. On top of my existing outreach work, I am travelling to another partner practice in Barnsley to look after their students.
We have also been encouraged to start offering private work, which was something that previously just wasn’t done. The new attitude and approach have 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.
Why do you think some corporates have a reputation that isn’t as great as an independent?
I must admit I was shocked 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 and using inferior materials and the loss of all clinical freedom.
Dental corporates are also often criticised for restricting clinical freedom, but we have found 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 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.
What do you place greater importance on – clinical or professional development?
Both are just as important to me and the opportunities Dental Partners is providing is enabling me to broaden my horizons and develop both 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.
How would you describe your level of autonomy in the practice?
Amongst one of the many reasons, I’m 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.
From an ethical perspective, it quickly became apparent how dedicated Dental Partners is to giving back. In supporting a number of dental charities, including Bridge2Aid and Dentaid, to help address global inequalities in oral health and treatment access, such charity involvement has enabled both myself and the wider practice team to actively fundraise in these communities.
Most recently, we have been encouraged to partake in the 1000 smiles fundraising appeal by Bridge2Aid and Dentaid as part of their ‘Together Dental’ campaign, which involves 1000 practices helping to each raise £100, thus enable greater access to dental care around the world.
Finally, what would you say to anyone who may be wary of working for a corporate?
I too had been extremely wary, almost to the point of looking for a new job. But in my opinion, the reality is that our association has been a fantastically positive move and the opposite to what I was expecting.
When the idea first came about I attended a presentation about Dental Partners’ unusual attitude to corporate dentistry. Neil Lloyd encouraged an open discussion and 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 give the new management a chance.
I have since found that they have 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. While I understand and appreciate not everyone will share my positive experiences, it’s important I share mine. Associates are an important part of the workforce, to the point where they are integral. For me, this is a model that could work.
Finally, I think it’s important for other associates to understand just how surprisingly refreshing it has been to work within a practice recently taken over by a corporate. Our CEO, Neil Lloyd, hasn’t just been involved in the acquisition of the practice, he has made it his business to be proactive within the practice, encouraging charitable opportunities and developing staff skills, and that for me is one of the key differences between Dental Partners and the average corporate.
Gemma qualified from Sheffield in 2009. She has a particular passion for cosmetic and paediatric (children’s) dentistry and is an honorary clinical tutor for the outreach students in association for The University of Sheffield and a FD trainer.
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