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Starting your foundation year – top tips and advice


Jade Kwaku

After completing her foundation year in dentistry, Jade Kwaku offers her top tips and advice for those about to graduate.

I’m Dr Jade Kwaku and I graduated from Queen Mary University of London (or Barts) last August 2023. Throughout dental school I kept myself busy with our BL dance society as well as exploring different dental associations such as the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD) and the Budding Black Dentists.

I also decided in my fourth year to enrol in the Interface Aesthetics JTMS course as I became interested in the realm of facial aesthetics. I’m based on the Suffolk and North East Essex scheme in a practice in Colchester, and will soon be starting my new associate jobs.

Advice I was given before foundation training

I chose to speak to as many dentists as possible – spanning from the current foundation dentists (FDs) to those 15+ year post qualification – specifically their vocational training year experience and what they’ve taken from this.

I gathered that foundation year will be the steepest learning curve of my career and I should mentally prepare myself for this change of pace from dental school. While this was daunting to digest, I found it comforting that every single dentist I spoke to looked back on this year with fond memories no matter where they were placed. 

Most told me to explore unfamiliar areas and move to a different part of the country. Embracing wherever you are placed is key to enjoying this year of growth. 

Now my advice to you…

You are a safe beginner – so be confident in your foundation knowledge

Trust me when I say dental school was fit for purpose to make you a safe beginner. You’ll probably know the most general dental knowledge while studying for fifth year finals. Once you’re in practice, your brain will quickly adapt to sieve out extra information and you’ll retain key pieces on info to help you complete your bread and butter dentistry.

The most important things you need to have full confidence in is your ability to treatment plan and diagnose. Practical skill will come with practice and exposure. Of course, your educational supervisor (ES) will help you a lot to begin with so don’t worry. Go over radiographs and look for clinical photographs of caries removal and restorative workflow. 

Communication is key – it is pretty much everything

This is one of the first nuggets of wisdom my ES tried to instil in me. Explaining procedures and treatment options in language that can be understood by your patient is imperative to obtaining valid consent. Articulating your words correctly and making sure your patient receives the information the way you intended is the easiest way to avoid patient complaints.

Spend time talking to your patients, get to know them, but also shadow your ES and associates to pick up particular phrases.

Take dental photos 

Every FD practice is required to provide a ASLR camera so utilise it! Taking photographs isn’t just for promotion on social media but mainly for self reflection and learning.

You’ll also be able to evaluate and critique your work, document your growth and discuss treatment with your ES and other associates should you need to. I’ve used my camera to help communicate treatment options to patients and help them see their teeth from my perspective.

When the time comes, you’ll also have a portfolio of your workflow to show potential employers! 

Get magnification and illumination 

Loupes have probably been my best investment so far. I chose to buy mine in fifth year during dental school but only truly started using them in practice.

Be sure to practice a lot on extracted teeth or a mannequin head before using them on your first patient. You don’t have to go for the most expensive pair but anything is better than just your naked eye or your normal reading glasses!

Make the most of your study days 

Every study day will teach you mounds of information that you’ll be able to immediately implement in practice. It became quite routine for everyone in my scheme to bring along radiographs or clinical photos (given the patient had signed consent and were anonymised) for a second opinion by the dentist leading the session. Discussing cases with a fresh set of eyes and a different perspective can only benefit your patient.

Just remember, your patient’s care is your responsibility alone so make sure you’re confident in your ability to execute the procedure. 

Talk to your team and look after your mental health

Unfortunately, the state of our mental health often manifests physically. Be transparent with your team, especially your ES and training programme director (TPD), as they’re here to help you. If you’re feeling anxious about a procedure, tell your ES well in advance and perhaps plan your next tutorial around this subject.

Remember you’re at the very start of your career so pace yourself… it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

Dedicate your free time to taking up a new hobby and explore new interests. Dentistry can be extremely overwhelming, especially at the very beginning of the career. Establishing your perfect work-life balance early on will only protect you from burning out so early on.

Get organised from the get-go

Try to allocate a dedicated amount of time each week to completing your e-portfolio. Getting into this routine early on would stop any backlog of work and help come the end of year reviews.

For appointments, your practice may already have a zoning system in place to keep your day organised and efficient. I would also suggest adding in some admin slots to break up your day and stay on top of patient referrals or letters!

Overall…

I’m most grateful for the ongoing support and teaching from my ESs and my team. FD year is a challenging but rewarding time. It is one that will have perhaps the largest impact on you as a young dental professional.

While the learning curve is steep, you’ll have the safety net and support of your team behind you. Good luck!


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