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Bill Sharpling and the Dental Career Pathway

Bill Sharpling is Associate Dean for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Director of the London Dental Education Centre (LonDEC) at the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences, King’s College London; which is Europe’s largest dental institute and has been ranked No. 1 in the world for dentistry.

Bill has responsibility for running LonDEC, the post-qualification training establishment at the faculty. LonDEC was awarded “Best Dental Education & Training Centre, UK” in 2019 and 2020.

Bill’s personal career pathway began in his early teenage years. His father had been in the Army and shared his love of the military life with his young son. His uncle was a dental technician who had served in the Royal Army Dental Corps during national service and he often invited his nephew into his lab and allowed him to help out – or as Bill describes it, do his best not to get in the way. With strong foundations like that it seemed almost inevitable that the first steps on Bill’s career ladder would lead him to the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC).

Bill joined the RADC in 1980 and – after education and training – in 1982 at the age of 18 he began an obligatory dental nurse role with the 49th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, working with another newly qualified dental professional – a 23-year-old female dentist. He freely admits that at first neither of them really knew what they were doing, but he couldn’t begin his chosen career as a technician until he had completed his time in the dental nurse role. Dental technician training began in summer of 1983 and continued for three years. Once qualified Bill took the bit firmly between his teeth.

By the time he left the RADC in 1996 Bill had progressed to become one of the youngest Warrant Officers in the RADC and was set to apply for a commission. He had travelled from the UK, to Germany, Hong Kong and Nepal in various roles including that of laboratory manager; and he had gained advanced qualifications in maxilla facial technology as well as fixed and removable prosthodontics.

He had also completed Junior and Senior Management Qualification Courses, teaching and education courses, and had held a number of management posts.
When he applied for the position of Chief Instructor in Conservative Dentistry at Guy’s Hospital Dental School, Bill says he did so out of curiosity. He had excellent prospects on the military horizon but still wanted to see what else was out there.

He still remembers his interview, with Prof. Bernard Smith and Prof. Edwina Kidd forming part of the interview panel. He had prepared well for the meeting and was up to speed with all the regulatory requirements for the post, but even so he was surprised to be offered the job.

He had to explain to Professor Smith that he couldn’t actually accept the role, that because he was a career soldier with the Army, he couldn’t simply walk away without facing a financial penalty. Prof. Smith wouldn’t accept the excuse, instead Guy’s paid for Bill to leave the military and take up his new post.

“I guess they really wanted me,” he says.

In 1997 Prof. Smith supported Bill to complete a master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from which he graduated with a distinction. When Guy’s, Kings College and St Thomas’ Hospital trusts merged Bill applied for, and was accepted for, the role of Head of Dental Technology. He has also held posts within the London Deanery and Kent Surrey Sussex Deanery at strategic level, contributing to the education, training and development of the dental workforce.

Bill is a teacher and examiner for the faculty’s MSc in Aesthetic Dentistry & MClinDent Fixed & Removable Prosthodontic programmes. He has lectured both in the UK and across the international circuit, served on a number of editorial boards, authored and co-authored a number of refereed published papers and has recently authored a chapter in the Elsevier published book “Essentials of Esthetic Dentistry – Principles of Practice” as well as a chapter on Occlusion and use of articulators in the Wiley published “Practical Procedures in Aesthetic Dentistry”.

Somehow Bill also finds the time to work as a clinical dental technician (CDT) in a private practice, a job for which he had qualified in 2008. To list all of his achievements would fill a book, but we must include here, in addition to his other Fellowships, his advisory role with the FGDP(UK) Dental Care Professionals (DCP) Committee and his position with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dentistry, contributing to the oral health strategies that form part of Governmental policy.

Bill has recently become a Fellow and Council member of the College of General Dentistry (CGDent) which officially came into being on 1st July 2021. He is also part of the College’s Career Pathways Reference Group and a member of its Careers & Training Committee, more of which later.

Bill in his spare time

LonDEC and CGDent

Bill talks in more detail about his involvement with establishing LonDEC and his hopes for CGDent, the dental technician and clinical dental technician career pathways – and their future scope of practice evolution.

“LonDEC was the brainchild of KCL Dental Dean Nairn Wilson and Liz Jones from the London Deanery. A similar facility had been created in Manchester (ManDEC) but the London Centre was to be an initiative that set the global benchmark for dental education and excellence. The challenge Nairn set me was to create something new.

“LonDEC opened in 2009 as a £2.5m start-up collaboration between NHS London and KCL Dental Institute. I was involved ahead of the opening as project coordinator for the design and build of the Centre – after having previously been involved in designing the dental institute clinical skills training facility in Guy’s Hospital.

“Initial expectations were that the Centre would operate at a modest surplus in the region of £25k per annum. All surplus income would be ploughed back into developing the Centre. After 10 years we hoped to be investing just £250,000 in upgrading its facilities. In fact, after just eight years under my direction the Centre had generated a surplus of approximately £1.2m and continues to run as a successful venture.

“LonDEC exists to be the residential home for KCL students studying for their master’s degree in endodontics, prosthodontics, and aesthetic dentistry, as well as a facility for hosting CPD courses for all members of the dental team.

Bill is globally recognised as the ‘face’ of LonDEC. During its fledgling years he had driven its brand awareness with the support of Nairn Wilson, whom Bill describes as a sage voice when guidance was needed and a man with an insightful eye who aided Bill when he was navigating through unknown waters during the Centre’s early history.

LonDEC’s ongoing growth has become a benchmark for Bill’s success, and it is his interest in evolving the career pathway for the entire dental team that has since become the spur that has placed him front and centre as one of the key people driving the ambitions of CGDent, aiming to create both the education and development model for UK dentistry, and gain Royal status for the College.

He explains: “We do not want to replace the essential professional bodies that represent the dental team. Organisations such as the BDA, DTA, DLA, BACDT, BADN and BSDHT all play a pivotal role in representing their members, and we support their work. We also recognise the importance of regulators such as the GDC and CQC in protecting the patients’ rights.

“As an adjunct to professional representation and regulation, CGDent becomes the third leg of the stool that will provide the stability we need to drive dentistry forward. And we will have a powerful voice. There are some 120,000 registered dental professionals in the UK, if just half of them join the College we will become the largest professional educational body of all the Royal Colleges.

“Within CGDent we aim to function as a flat hierarchy. Dentists, clinical dental technicians, dental technicians, orthodontic therapists, nurses, therapists and hygienists are all considered equal. CGDent is unique in that it acts as the educational body for everybody in the dental team – every member of the profession will be able to find what they need under the same umbrella. It will be a slow burn at first, but like the mighty rockets that have taken humankind into space it will one day see us reach the heights we deserve.”

He continues: “We see the scope of practice for every facet of the dental team developing to meet each individual need. The current model is for four Faculties within the College: dentists; dental technicians and clinical dental technicians; dental nurses and orthodontic therapists; and dental hygienists and therapists. But the vision for the future is to differentiate further.

“Why not, in the fullness of time, have separate faculties for dental technicians and clinical dental technicians, for hygienists and therapists? Their career pathways are different. A dental technician working at the enhanced practitioner level can do many things that a clinical dental technician can’t. They are equally skilled but in different ways.

“And perhaps, thanks to expanding the scope of practice, which CGDent will feed in to, one day patients may be able to have direct access to CDTs who, with the necessary education and training, will be able to provide partial dentures, something they are perfectly capable of doing but which is currently outside their remit.

“We also want to raise the profile of the profession’s role within the healthcare system. A dentist must refer a patient to their GP if they spot any worrying symptoms, but the GP has no guidance to refer a patient to a dental professional if they have, say, periodontal issues.”

He adds: “We see the role of the dental professional developing over the next five- to 10-years, and for the first time there will be a clear career development pathway from safe practitioner to accomplished practitioner. People can join CGDent as an Associate Member and develop to become a Certified Associate Member, a Full Member MCGDent), then an Associate Fellow (AFCGDent), and eventually a Fellow (FCGDent).

“It is the true professional recognition for achievement. We have had a tough time over the past few years thanks to the COVID disruption, but once we have worked our way through such obstacles and set our feet on that clear career pathway the future for the dental professional team looks very rosy indeed.”

For more information about the College of General Dentistry, visit https://cgdent.uk/

To take advantage of the heavily discounted introductory rates and join the College, visit https://cgdent.uk/membership-fees/

 

See the original article here: Dental Industry Review

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