Career skills training

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career skills training
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With the Dental Board’s current CPD cycle at the halfway point, and bearing in mind what we’ve learnt living through a pandemic, now is the time to re-evaluate the approach to career skills training. By John Burfitt

When the latest Dental Board of Australia (the Board) continuing professional development (CPD) cycle began in December 2019, no-one could have predicted how much the dental profession, not to mention the world, would change only months later with the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the Board encourages dentists to complete CPD units each year of the three-year cycle, in 2020 the organisation acknowledged in a range of statements that upskilling and new education might be the last thing on dentists’ agendas during the crisis.

With the worst of COVID-19 seemingly now behind us as new vaccines and measures are rolled out, and with the current CPD cycle at the halfway point, Australian dentists are being encouraged to resume their focus on their CPD in the cycle’s remaining 18 months.

To meet registration standards, the Board outlines a minimum of 60 hours must be completed over the three-year cycle, with a minimum of 48 hours spent on clinical/scientific activities, and a maximum of 12 hours on non-scientific activities.

In the wake of the various upheavals imposed by COVID-19 throughout the community, the choice of new areas of learning and study by dentists in 2021 might be very different.

“So many things have changed, as has the way many people approach dentistry,” Dr Alex Holden, senior lecturer and community dentistry specialist at the University of Sydney’s Dental School, says.  

“Now is a good time to think through what you went through over the past 12 months, especially when you wondered about what you wanted to know more about in terms of your patients’ needs. That’s a good starting point for choosing the next round of CPD.”

Infection Control

With the highest priority having been put on hygiene procedures throughout the world, learning about the latest developments in dental infection controls should be high on the CPD agenda, Dr Holden says.

“Making sure you’re up to date on all areas of infection controls is best practice, especially if any of it has changed during the pandemic and what that might mean into the future,” he explains. A thorough understanding of the many elements of infection control is not only essential for dentistry, it’s also an area many patients have become increasingly concerned about through the pandemic.

“I believe our profession already takes infection control responsibilities very seriously, but completing a new course in this to bring you up to date, or even just to remind you of all the protocols, demonstrates to our patients they’re in safe hands, and their wellbeing—as well as our own—is paramount.”

Referral analysis

Keeping track of referrals made over the past 12 months can be a smart approach to practice finances as well as a good guide for future choices in CPD, Dr Phillip Palmer, of dental consultancy Prime Practice, says.

He recommends a comprehensive record be kept of all the work referred out, along with a measure of the value that work represents. Those figures could then possibly guide a practitioner in determining how much of that work could, with the right CPD training, be completed in-house instead

Now is a good time to think through what you went through over the past 12 months, especially when you wondered about what you wanted to know more about in terms of your patients’ needs. That’s a good starting point for choosing the next round of CPD.

Dr Alex Holden, senior lecturer, University of Sydney’s Dental School

“You may calculate you referred $30,000 in orthodontic work and $50,000 in endodontic work, and so you need then to determine what percentage of those cases could have been done within the practice if the right comprehensive training had been completed,” Dr Palmer says.

Measuring the cost of the CPD training against the value of those procedures can be a major game changer in terms of determining revenue streams for the future.

“There will always be a need for specialists, but the more skills you add to your practice means the wider range of services you can offer, and that can add considerable income to the business.”

Communication skills

With the many different methods of communication between practitioner and patients throughout 2020, as well as the significant expansion of telehealth services, new training in effective communication strategies might prove one of the best CPD investments of all. 

“There are too many dentists in our profession who have fantastic clinical skills and very ordinary, or poor, communication skills,” Dr Palmer says.

“All dentists—no matter what stage their career is at—need to work on their communication skills. The way you engage with your patients can be the difference between them accepting or not accepting optimum treatment options, and between returning to see you or going elsewhere.”

Communication skills courses, in such areas as client engagement, trust building and emotional intelligence, could prove to offer the best return on investment of any CPD courses.

“How we engage with each other changed so much last year, so think now of the areas you want to be more effective in, and what you can improve with your patients to build trust so you retain them as a client,” he says. 

Reflect first

While additional training in infection controls, income streams and communication skills might be ideal for success in 2021, Dr Alex Holden insists each practitioner must make a decision on CPD based on their individual needs.

“This is a good time to actually step back and think about what you’re not good at and then develop a plan forward from there,” he says.

To assist in that process, the Dental Board of Australia offers a Reflective Practice Tool on its website, which helps practitioners reflect on the current state of their knowledge and skills, and consider the ways training could improve and broaden their knowledge, expertise and competence. 

Dental Board chair Dr Murray Thomas advises practitioners to consult the Board’s guidelines on continuing professional development when choosing appropriate CPD activities. 

“The CPD carried out should be determined by the individual needs of a practitioner after having reflected on their current and future scope of practice, their work environment and their existing skills, knowledge and competency,” Dr Thomas says. “Practitioners may meet these [CPD] obligations through, for example, seminars, podcasts, conferences, virtual meetings, study groups and self-directed learning.”  

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