Dental nurses need educating

There, that got your attention didn’t it? How rude! More politely I might have used the word ‘education’ instead but either way it is true of the whole dental team, we all need continuing education. Fiona Ellwood is the first to agree and we caught up with her to talk about dental nursing, CPD and the upcoming Dental Showcase.

With a solid grounding in dental nursing going back further than she cares to remember (although she smiles a characteristic wry grin as she says this) it is not surprising that Fiona Ellwood became one of the founding members and patron of the Society of British Dental Nurses (SBDN). A major clue to the reason for Fiona’s involvement comes from the opening sentence of the Society’s mission statement “our vision is to inspire and engage dental nurses at each and every stage of their career”. She has spent much of her varied and continuing career in dentistry, and in education, entwined with a passion for guiding colleagues to ever-greater self-fulfilment and achievement.

However, having been a dental nurse and a practice manager Fiona is at pains to stress that further education has to been seen not only as an individual activity but one which is integrated with the dental team. “We have to work as a team and so it makes complete sense to spend at least some of our time learning as a team” she states. Not that this is easy in busy practice working set-ups and hectic personal lives as the opportunities for team learning are limited, especially by time. Team meetings are an opportunity for this to happen as are team outings such as away-days and also visits to dental events such as exhibitions.

Dental Showcase, taking place over three days this autumn (19-21 October 2017) at the NEC in Birmingham provides such an opportunity. “Always a great event, I am particularly looking forward to this year’s exhibition as there are a number of innovations that are a must for dental team learning” says Fiona. For the first time there will be a ‘practice of the future’ theatre designed like a theatre in the round with banked seating so that delegates can see and experience the latest equipment being demonstrated and used in real time and on real patients. Witnessing such practical application of new technology and patient care is so much more valuable than a standard CPD lecture, for example, and provides that all important opportunity for the team to experience educational presentations together rather than being separated into ‘team roles’.

Fiona is very supportive of this type of inclusive education as distinct from the more usual ‘bolt on’ sessions for dental nurses, which often appear almost as an after-thought. In addition, as Fiona points out, Birmingham is very easy to get to, simplifying the decision to make a day of it for the whole practice. Of course it is not just about learning and work, a team that works well together usually has great fun together too so inevitably stories of the travel, the exhibition, meals and encounters get woven into the mythology of the team – ‘do you remember that time we went to Showcase and…’ you know how it goes!

Showcase is the biggest and best attended dental exhibition in the UK meaning that the large number and range of exhibitors provides a unique opportunity for nurses in particular to keep themselves abreast of the very latest innovation within dentistry. With dental nurses playing such a central role in the dental team their need for knowledge of current trends has probably never been more important. This allows for effective communication not only with their fellow team members but also with patients who, thanks to the internet and social media, can be as well informed as those who treat them.

So, does Fiona see Showcase with its CPD opportunities and other benefits as an example of the way forward for dental education in a team setting? “Absolutely. The spread of products, services and organisation on show emphasises what should be a lateral attitude towards team working. For me the expression of the escalator of dental careers is quite wrong as it implies a hierarchy of knowledge and in its turn, of care. I believe the route forward is a pathway, a flat model that recognises different skill sets, not better or worse ones, that all meld into the very best care that we can offer to our patients.”

Delving into Fiona’s current workload and impressive CV makes one wonder how on earth she fits everything in. But perhaps it is this very diversity of thinking and activity that enables her to have such a wide view of the future of dental nursing and why she is such a fan of Showcase. She is currently undertaking a PhD in professional aspects of dental nursing as well as being an External Examiner in Dublin and Cork, Additionally, working with the University of Chester, and helping advise the CQC and the GDC as part of stakeholder groups, to mention only a few of her many roles, Fiona is a shining example of what can be achieved with dedication and sheer hard work. Oh, and just to point out that she is also a keen equestrian, owning three horses and managing to ride at least two to three days a week and gets stuck into the yard work most days. So, if you see someone arriving at Showcase on horseback you’ll know instantly who it is. See you there!