Celebrating 100 years of women dental professionals

Prof. Sara Hughes MBEProf Sara Hughes

Where did you qualify and what year?

I qualified as a Dental Nurse via the National Dental Nursing Board (NDBN) program having studied part-time at Highbury College of Further Education. I read for my Bachelor’s Degree, in Health Promotion, and Master’s Degree, in Health Professional Education, at the University of Portsmouth. I read for my Doctorate in Education at the University of Brighton.

  • NBDN Dental Nursing Certificate - 1987
  • BSc (Hons) Health Promotion - 2000
  • Master of Arts Health Professional Education 2001
  • Doctorate in Education 2013

What attracted you to dentistry?

I honestly don’t know, I just knew from the earliest time that I wanted to be a dental nurse.

What are your current responsibilities in the profession?

I am Associate Dean for Education at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). I am responsible for the quality and delivery of all pre and post-doctoral education at the School of Dentistry, including the: Degree in Dental Surgery (DDS), Interprofessional Health Post-Baccalaureate, dual DDS-MBA program, dual DDS-PhD program, international dentist program, MSc in Dental Hygiene, Oral and Craniofacial Sciences PhD, and an extensive program of advanced education and fellowships. I lead the School’s recruitment and admissions process, curriculum support, student affairs, education technology, and orientation programs.

Sara’s dental story:

I knew I wanted to be in dentistry from the age of five. One day in class, we were each given a lump of clay. While my friends modelled theirs into finger bowls and ash trays, smoking was still fashionable, I made a mouth with teeth and a giant tongue.

While I enjoyed school, I left without many qualifications and headed into the world of work as a trainee dental nurse (then called dental assistant). I enjoyed the work, and gained my qualification in dental nursing (still optional at the time).

After five years, I left the practice and went to work in the Oral Maxillofacial Department of the local hospital. I loved the surgical nature of the work both in theatres and out-patients. I studied further and gained qualifications in conscious sedation nursing, oral health promotion, and adult education. I had been working at the hospital for five years, when I was contacted by the Program Director of the local college, where I had trained, advising that she would be retiring. She asked if I was interested in the position and gave me the confidence to apply.

I loved teaching, and gained further qualifications in education. However, I was frustrated by the level of training, lack of career opportunities and recognition and reward for dental nurses. The Local Dental Officer, who shared my views and concerns, encouraged me to apply to be a lead of a national dental workforce study, led by the Chief Dental Officer for England. The study revealed some remarkable local data in terms of healthcare needs, access problems, and workforce availability.

Armed with the data, we arranged to meet with the Vice-Chancellor of the local University, with a proposal to develop a new school for dental care professionals. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but looking back it seems a very unusual thing for a dental nurse, who had never been to university, to do.

The University was going through some changes, and the Vice-Chancellor responded positively to the opportunity of developing something new. I was appointed University Lecturer, with the single goal of making it happen. Over the course of the next few years, with an amazing team of colleagues, the University of Portsmouth Dental Academy, an innovative education partnership with King’s College London, was founded. It was the first dental school to be situated in primary care, on a university campus, and remote from a traditional dental school.

At the same time as leading the development and implementation of the school, I studied for my first degree and my masters. I am the first member of my family to go to University. I later studied for my doctorate at the University of Brighton.

In 2006, I received the MBE for my work in dental education by Her Majesty the Queen. In 2012, I received a National Teaching Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy, and in 2014 became Principal Fellow of the Academy. In 2014, I received a Personal Chair in Education, the highest academic award in UK education.  

After leaving the Dental Academy, I lived and worked in Asia before taking up my current appointment at the University of California San Francisco.

What has been your most memorable achievement in the profession?

Founding the University of Portsmouth Dental Academy

What advice would you give your younger self on qualifying?

Strive to be the very best version of you, that you can be.

Which of your mentors have influenced you the most?

My first University mentor. He helped me believe in myself, I suffered terribly from imposter syndrome, and my ability to change things and make things happens.

How have you used mentoring throughout your career?

In numerous ways for example, gaining insight and understanding to cultures and practices (e.g. academic life, government), personal development and promotion, networking, career planning, and importantly as a sounding board.


Who We Are:

Dental Mentors UK is run by two experienced dental mentors.
We are:

We believe that all dental professionals would benefit from regularly working with a mentor from a personal as well as a professional point of view. Mentors are experienced dental professionals who can guide and support you throughout your career.

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