Celebrating 100 years of women dental professionals

Reena PatelReena Patel

Where did you qualify and when?  

Cardiff Dental School, University of Wales, College of Medicine   2004

What attracted you to dentistry?

I was keen to be a healthcare professional. At school, I loved the sciences, and wanted to work with, and serve, the general public. I was particularly attracted to dentistry because of its distinct combination of art and science. I enjoy working with my hands, and felt that I would really appreciate being able to make a positive impact on patients’ oral health. I was also keen to explore the variety of clinical, research and academic opportunities available within the profession.

What are your current responsibilities in the profession?

I am currently a part-time dental public health specialty registrar in the South West of England. Dental Public Health specialists essentially work in a community setting preventing dental diseases and promoting dental health. The training programme involves working in a strategic, advocacy and consultative role, working closely with Public Health England, the NHS, and other government health agencies and relevant bodies, such as local authorities and universities. I am thus involved in service/research projects and dental education in a variety of settings.

Reena’s dental story

Upon graduating as a dentist, I put together a short, medium and long term plan. The short term plan involved obtaining as much clinical experience as possible, and completion of MFDS as an entry point to postgraduate specialist training. The medium term plan involved travel and voluntary work abroad, and the long term plan was to be decided! As a starting point, I secured a general professional training post in London, and maximised opportunities to consider the various specialties of dentistry. Despite really enjoying clinical work, in every post I was drawn to aspects of clinical prevention and service delivery. However, I realised that as a very junior dentist, it is often difficult to gain management experience. Driven by curiosity more than anything else, I decided to apply for an MSc in international health management at Imperial College, London. Upon completion of the MSc, I obtained a position at Deloitte, as a strategic management consultant. This was an extremely challenging career change, and I look back now and think I must have spent the whole time looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Everything was different in the private sector – the working ethos and culture; jargon; and career development pathways. Looking back, I think I struggled most with the fact that consultancy essentially offers a financial service that is not always defined by professional standards, and as a healthcare professional, I found this difficult, especially when it involved significant expenditure of public funds. However, selfishly, I also fully appreciated what I could learn from the role, in terms of generic project management skills, and enjoyed the challenge of new problems, with new clients, in a range of healthcare settings. I learnt quickly, and as the only dentist I was able to carve out a niche for myself. However, as dentistry formed only a very small part of the overall NHS budget, this limited opportunities to be a specific “dental” management consultant. Mindful that I was hired on the basis of a specific skill set of dentistry, I did not want to lose these skills, and become a generic management consultant. I therefore decided to leave.

I then commenced a post in the salaried services, an aspect of dentistry that I had not previously worked in before. During this time, I was able to balance a clinical position with taking on individual pieces of commissioned work, in collaboration with Professor Kenneth Eaton. Whilst this was challenging, I relished the opportunity to apply an academic and scientific approach in these projects, and was fortunate to work with a wide range of public and private sector clients. Three years went by very quickly, and I was then finally successful in securing a Specialty Training Post in Dental Public Health in the East of England Deanery. Dental public health involves dealing with uncertainty and problem solving, and my career pathway to date has certainly provided me with opportunities to encourage, support and enable change.

What has been your most memorable achievement in the profession?

In terms of my career, things seem to have really come together in the last five years. I have managed to secure (and maintain) a registrar post in dental public health; acquired a dog and three children; complete an MSc in Dental Public Health and relocate from Brixton, London to sunny Devon to support my husband in his maxillofacial career. I am currently on maternity leave but super excited about my return to work, and the new opportunities that will be available to me.

What advice would you give your younger self on qualifying?

If you have chosen a portfolio career, then you must be prepared to be patient: patient when it comes to learning new skills, developing relationships and building a network again. In a new role, in a new setting learning the ropes simply takes time.

This might be part personality, part habit, or part genetic (being a female) but looking back I would advise myself to stop apologising, and using verbal minimisers. I would also say don’t be reluctant to claim your achievements, and bring visibility to your successes because if you don’t value your skills and achievements, why would anybody else?

Which of your mentors have influenced you the most?

Professor Kenneth Eaton. He applies a highly rigorous and scientific approach in everything he does, and is highly active in national and international dental networks.

How have you used mentoring throughout your career?

I completed formal mentoring training a few years ago and am now actively looking for opportunities to use these new skills.



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Dental Mentors UK is run by two experienced dental mentors.
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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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