Focusing on goals

25 September 2021

Catherine Rutland considers how the pandemic will affect new graduates’ careers.

After the lack of live sport last summer, it has been so positive to watch it again and feel part of the event – even if on some occasions the venues have been empty of spectators. Even for sports that I would not normally be interested in, the sense of national unity has pulled me into watching. Yes, I do mean football! You don’t always have to know all the rules or names of the participants to enjoy watching – and maybe actually learn something new.

However, for me, the highlight has to be the Olympics. I always look forward to both the summer and winter Olympic Games. Four years build that anticipation, and this five[1]year cycle has only heightened that. The athletes have been preparing for years and want their chance to shine. It makes me think about students going through university, putting all the work in for so many years, and then because of the pandemic not having the closing celebration of a graduation ceremony. It’s not just about the closure for the students, but for many of us parents as well; we may not have been the one studying but we have been through the highs and lows, the strangeness and the upheaval of the last two academic years.

Others will graduate later than expected due to further training being required; hopefully they will feel the same as some of the athletes at the games, who say the extra year has given them a different perspective and additional time to build and hone their skills.

Either way, for dental students across the country, it has been a very different experience to normal, and those entering practice for the first time will face a very different environment to that which many of us encountered.

Starting in practice, when I think back, was a mixture of excitement and terror – and I already had two and half years’ hospital experience when I moved to practice. Those early days are challenging, and if you add the current working environment, I feel for our new graduates.

It is something all the profession need to be aware of – not just the trainers, who will support them so much in their first year – as we already have a huge problem with morale and keeping people in the profession. For this next generation, we need to make sure that their early years’ experience includes support and understanding for the extra challenges they will face.

The impact will be prolonged for some. We know that working in the current way is making many think about how long they might continue in the profession, especially for those closer to retirement, and we will face a huge workforce issue, even worse than now, if we lose talented individuals at each end of their professional lives. This makes the early years even more crucial in our professional development.

I know it can be easy to think that this does not directly affect you, but it does – all of this links together, whatever part of dentistry you have a role in. Your actions will, in some way, impact other areas of the profession. We are all interlinked and if we don’t accept that, we will lose the impetus to make sure we work together.

I appreciate there are some things we can’t control individually, like immigration rules, or dental school intake numbers, yet as a collective, we stand more chance of influencing those who do make the decisions.

Focusing on the end goal, as the athletes do in the Olympics, gives direction and purpose. Being part of a team and working towards things together, you hear repeatedly when listening to many sports people, is such a key part of motivation.

If we can consider working as a team to align the profession to common goals in the workforce, we will be more focused on what we wish to achieve together. It is so important to bring the new graduates along with us and support them.

A summer of live sport has certainly been beneficial. Not least because, having sadly lost my last puppy days before her first birthday, it has provided distraction and positivity. The joy of early mornings watching the Olympics with my new puppy has brought back so much happiness and focus. I am not sure that she and I could quite be called a team yet, but I am looking forward to training her and working together to create one.