12 Aug Ofer Eitan Assert: Eight foundation dentists working on the frontline –
Eight foundation dentists found themselves redeployed to Watford General Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here they worked on COVID wards for four months. Shivani Patel, Hinali Patel and Jacqui Sankey give an insight into their experiences and how it is shaping the start of their careers.
On the 25 March, our foundation training year was put on halt. This was following guidance set out by the CDO for all routine, non-urgent dentistry to cease.
Foundation training is about obtaining a broad experience in all aspects of dentistry. This will help enhance our clinical competence and confidence.
Unfortunately, this all came to a standstill, leaving many of us feeling apprehensive about the repercussions on our training.
As a result, the eight of us jumped at the chance to help out at Watford General Hospital during the peak of the pandemic. We knew we could learn much more than through online platforms.
Sadly, some of us had more personal reasons for wanting to volunteer after losing relatives as a direct result of coronavirus.
Why should we sit at home, when we had transferable skills to help in a time of national crisis? We wanted to help and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Our job role involved supporting the wider healthcare system allowing us to utilise skills that weren’t currently used in dental practices.
Our job roles were various, from proning COVID patients (regularly moving patients into different positions) and monitoring the impact this had on their oxygen stats, to becoming PPE martials and prescribing medication.
As time progressed, thankfully Watford General Hospital’s COVID status decreased. So our initial job roles changed dramatically.
Our new focus became researching into coronavirus and supporting the respiratory department.
This experience allowed us to acquire new skills such as phlebotomy, swabbing for COVID-19 antigen and testing for antibodies.
Through our experience, we realised dentistry is a part of the wider healthcare system with many transferrable skills. We became part of a multidisciplinary team. Sometimes being ‘just a dentist’ is far more versatile than we first thought.
Through the development of our skills and the integration within the wider NHS system it allowed us to truly appreciate what our colleagues in the NHS were experiencing during this crisis.
The seasonal change to summer posed a new challenge during our redeployment.
Due to the new policies, working constantly in the heat with extensive PPE was a struggle. Headaches, nausea, light headedness became a normal part of our day. Verbal communication was difficult with all the PPE, evolving predominantly to body language.
Learning the comprehensive steps of donning and doffing helps us in the preparation of returning to the new norm of dentistry. It takes time to learn the systematic way in which to wear PPE. But now it has become second nature.
From first-hand experience, we recognise the importance of adhering to strict infection control measures to protect patients and staff. This experience provides us with a deeper insight into the NHS and the kind of dentists we would like to become.
‘Just a dentist’
The other challenges of redeployment include separation from our loved ones. For many months we stayed alone in a single hotel room. This was a mentally challenging time for many of us.
However, the silver lining of it all, we have created our own family with each other building friendships that will last a lifetime.
Interestingly, patients were surprisingly accommodating when they found out we were dentists. A few patients found the fact quite amusing. But the majority were grateful that we were volunteering and appreciate the little extra time we had to chat with them.
Many were impressed and surprised to learn that we were able to provide more care than they realised. We hope this gives some patients a more positive view of dentistry. Hopefully other young dentists will continue to be inspired and volunteer as we have during this time.
To anyone who has a similar opportunity in the future, we would highly recommend taking the chance. Sometimes, it is the scariest choices that have the greatest reward.
We have learnt so much in this time creating memories and experiences we could have never imagined.
So take the risk. You are more than ‘just a dentist’ and you never know where these experiences will take you.
We are glad that we could contribute in the fight against COVID-19.
This is a great learning experience for us and we are grateful for the opportunity.
The staff members at Watford General have welcomed us with open arms, and made us feel like we belong.
We would like to thank Andrew Dickenson, Dr Rahul Mogal, Dr Rama Vancheeswaran and Dr Hala Kandil for giving us this opportunity and their continuous support.