I decided not only to become a dentist, but that I would be an orthodontist, at the tender age of 12, after being inspired by great care provided by my new dentist and a local orthodontist. After that, life choices were easy, as the O level and A level subjects I needed to take were determined and all I had to do was choose a dental school (and get an offer!). There have been plentiful challenges and a degree of intermittent misery, but, I’ve stuck doggedlyto my intended path and, on the whole, every working day has been a pleasure (well, almost). Listening to Julia Quinn, the author of “Bridgerton”, talk about her life on a podcast, I was interested to hear that she, too, had started writing with a passion over a summer holiday at the same age, having been challenged to write by her father.
Once I shared my thoughts about my career interest with my parents and teachers, they facilitated work experience opportunities for me and I spent a few days in various dental practices,simply observing. Not only was I welcomed by GDPs, but I also worked in retail from the age of 14, firstly in a newsagent’s, and then, from age 16 to 18, in the Menswear department of Debenhams, all of which gave me the chance to develop customer care skills, including preventing credit card fraud, dealing with customer complaints and general enquiries. Every working day subsequently, I have drawn upon these skills, now finely honed.
When I reflect on the opportunities for my own teenage children in comparison to mine at the same age, I think they are vastly reduced. Aside from the pandemic, traditional Saturday jobs are limited, as retail has declined and even waiting jobs in cafes seem to require previous experience.
Once I owned my own business, I decided that I would facilitate as many work experience opportunities as I could reasonably support. I’ve lost count of the number of 6th formers that have come to the practice for a day, but am still in close contact with three young women have come on elective as a dental student, an overseas Fellow and on an Erasmus scholarship respectively. There’s been a degree of administrative hassle and I’ve had to steel myself to jump over endless bureaucratic hurdles, not to mention manage a couple of untoward clinical incidents (ie a mandibular dislocation and swallowed orthodontic band) witnessed by unprepared 6th formers. However, it’s all part of the routine that we have to take in our stride and it makes the job real for the aspiring dental student. My patients have always welcomed visitors, often engaging youngsters in supportive chat and one patient even asked for her own school friend to come for work experience (to which I agreed).
So, if you get the opportunity to inspire and support a youngster, please take it. We have a responsibility to pass the baton on, and I’ve received disproportionate reciprocal benefit, in terms of friendship, warmth and entertainment, for taking that small step.