Should new graduates continue to upskill from the moment they land their first job, or instead focus first on mastering the fundamentals of new clinical experience within the practice? By John Burfitt
With the latest Dental Board of Australia’s Continuing Professional Development 60-hour cycle finishing on 30 November, and the new cycle having just commenced on 1 December, the issue of CPD remains front and centre of the dental agenda.
When it comes to the topic of CPD, veteran Darwin practitioner Dr Ean Ong has plenty to say on the matter, particularly about the way some young dentists adopt a fast and furious approach to it, particularly new graduates in the first few years of entering the profession.
Dr Ong is a graduate of The University of Sydney and has been in practice since 1978. He is the principal dentist and former owner of the BUPA Dental Casuarina clinic in Darwin. In recent years, he has also mentored a number of new graduates, and in doing so, has observed the fervent way some new dentists approach CPD.
While he insists CPD has a vital role in dentistry, Dr Ong also believes many graduate dentists would be far better off just focusing on their fundamental skills in their first year on the job.
“I have seen new dentists only just starting their first jobs racing out to do all kinds of CPD, some of which I believe is way beyond where they are at that point, and I think they’re wasting their time,” Dr Ong says. “In that first year on the job, they would be far better off consolidating everything they are learning in the clinic, like trying to read an X-ray, completing a good diagnosis, deciding on a treatment plan, not to mention how to deal with patients.
“When starting in their first job, young dentists are bombarded with so much new information, and it’s a lot to take in. This is when I think they should be consolidating what they have learned at uni and get it up to a good standard in the workplace. Any more than that, and I just don’t think they are ready for it.”
Distract or consolidate?
As an Associate Professor at The University of Sydney School of Dentistry, Dr Ky-Anh Nguyen teaches a range of students and is also a private dental practitioner.
He says the first year out of dental school when dealing with the reality of being a professional practitioner can be one of the most challenging of a dentist’s career. Which is why, Dr Nguyen says, CPD can play a vital role in helping strengthen new skills being put to the test within the workplace.
“This is a time to consolidate their knowledge and skill, and CPD can be very important source of information for that consolidation process,” he says. “As the dental school training is a very compact period, the new dentist often needs to revisit and engage with knowledge of existing and new materials and techniques on a weekly basis within a clinic.
“If the CPD they’re undertaking ties in with what they are doing in the clinic, or covers the areas the university does not focus on such as practice management, then I think CPD in those first years can be of real benefit. Exploring more about infection control can be beneficial at any time of your career.”
Choosing wisely which areas of CPD to undertake is essential both in terms of the time and money investment, and of what is appropriate for that stage of a dentist’s career, adds Adelaide’s Dr Peter Alldritt, who is also a consultant to the ADA’s Oral Health Committee.
“I would not want to see young graduates doing a two-day course on advanced areas like how to do full-mouth rehabilitation or complex removal of wisdom teeth when they are still grappling with the basics of the first year out of uni,” he says. “They need space to master the simpler stuff first.”
But, Dr Alldritt stresses, if new dentists have a hunger for knowledge and further learning, that should always be encouraged. “I’ve always believed young dentists— and any dentists for that matter—should continue to educate themselves and it is up to us as employers and mentors to nourish that desire to improve their skills. We should be promoting that as a culture within the profession, and give it momentum. But, just ensure they are taking on areas within their competencies of where they are at within their careers.”
Dr Amanda Lin graduated from the University of Queensland last year, and has spent her first year in the profession working in the public health sector in Newcastle.
She has already undertaken CPD in such areas as patient communication, management, treatment planning and paediatric dentistry. “That transition from dental school to the first year of work is significant—clinically, mentally and physically,” Dr Lin says. “However, I believe there’s always a place for constant training and education as long as the CPD is chosen appropriately. As a general rule, I have chosen CPD I feel will be immediately applicable to my next day back at work, and that I will also have support at work to take on.
“CPD does not necessarily have to be about learning something new. It has been wonderful to simply have a refresher course on something I learned a few years ago, and to keep abreast of the latest research evidence on our bread and butter dentistry.”
Dr Ean Ong agrees that the more young dentists are advised and supported in these early formative years of practice, the better it is for both them as well as their employers. “The young graduate dentists I’m seeing are very good, but we can’t forget they need help and guidance, and it’s up to senior dentists to ensure they have that,” he says. “Those early days are so important for deciding where they go next, so I’d like to think all of us are helping to guide them through that.”