Celebrating 100 years of women dental professionals


Sara Hurleysara h

Where did you qualify and when?     University of Bristol            1988

Sara’s dental story

Schooled in Brecon, South Wales, I headed to Bristol graduating from Bristol Dental School in 1988. Post Vocational Training I consolidated my General Dental Practitioner skills across a wide range clinical postings augmented with foundation training, developmental courses in anaesthetics/sedation, oral surgery, paediatrics and restorative with a focus on minimally invasive dentistry. Employed by the British Army my clinical duties included operational deployments to Iraq and the former Republic of Yugoslavia which heightened my awareness of assessing and managing oral health risk at both population as well as individual level.

In 2003 I commenced the enjoyable and professionally rewarding challenge of the MFGDP (UK) which sparked further postgraduate studies and an MSc in Dental Public Health at University College London. This foray back into academia was a significant turning point where the influences of Richard Watt and Aubrey Sheiham, brought the right to challenge and critically analyse the status quo to the fore.

Post MSc I was appointed principal advisor on oral health matters to the Director General of the Army Medical Services and initiated a re-design of dental care provision for Army recruits. Known as PROJECT MOLAR, developing the concept, delivering an evidence-based clinical strategy with a supporting manpower plan tested all aspects of my leadership, negotiation and management skills. Having successfully secured the commitment for the release of recruits under training to attend for routine dental care we launched PROJECT MOLAR in 2005 and over the next 10+ years the project realized improvements in military dental fitness, up from 46% in 2005 to 75+%.

Following PROJECT MOLAR, I completed an MA in Defence Studies with King’s College London. Swopping desk for desert, I deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 and Iraq in 2008 as the in-theatre Senior Operational Manager for healthcare planning and logistics.

In 2009, I was assigned to the Headquarters Surgeon General overseeing workforce planning and employment policy. In this capacity I initiated a review of clinical manpower, developing a personnel strategy to future proof military healthcare capability for 2020 and beyond. 

In 2011 I took on a project to amalgamate three military Regional Healthcare Departments into a single pan-UK entity. My responsibilities included commissioning primary and secondary healthcare provision in Brunei and Nepal Garrisons, commissioning military healthcare support to deployed personnel in Canada and Kenya and establishing a unified UK-wide Occupational Health Service for the Army Reserve.”

My last assignment with the military, was as Commanding Officer of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine. Commencing in 2014 this role was accompanied by my appointment as Chief Dental Officer for the Army and Queen’s Honorary Dental Surgeon, both honours were relinquished on transition to Chief Dental Officer England in 2015.

Whilst serving I was invited to lecture at the Defence Medical Services School (DMS) of Dental Nurse and Hygienist Training (2004-2006) and later at the DMS Training College (2006-2008). I have also pursued an interest into the health outcomes of ex-Service personnel; authoring a literature review of the evidence-base for Veteran health outcomes and as a contributor to Lord Ashcroft’s Veterans’ Transition Review.

As I reflect on a rewarding career of opportunities grasped it is the encouragement and enormous support I have received from colleagues I have worked for and alongside that underlines the fact that health care in all its forms is a team effort. I have had the honour and privilege of being a member of a number of outstanding teams. Their exemplar of selfless dedication, the nature of joint endeavor and the courage of conviction are beacons that continue to light the way forward.

What are your current responsibilities in the profession?

Chief Dental Officer (England)

National professional lead for oral health and dental care in England

Provide clinical advice and leadership within and across Department of Health, NHS England and Health Education England supporting each organisation to fulfil its responsibilities and deliver its oral health/dental care priorities, through the provision of:

  • Collate and offer evidence-based, advice about where to focus efforts and importantly where not to;
  • Clinical interpretation and understanding of data and evidence; policy development and implementation;
  • Advice and knowledge about how to address clinical and workforce issues that are affecting delivery;

What has been your most memorable achievement in the profession?

The re- design and delivery of dental care provision to the Army recruit and trainee population. Known as PROJECT MOLAR, the programme commenced in 2005 and provided focussed dental care during the initial 12-week training period for 20,000 Army recruits each year. This innovative re-design of Army dental manpower & capability and its alignment with the initial training pathway for Army recruits brought a significant improvement in recruit oral health outcomes for the individual patient with a subsequent improvement in the overall dental health of the Army, as greater numbers of “dentally fit “recruits moved into the trained force.

What advice would you give your younger self on qualifying?

Don’t waste time worrying but …..challenge assertion; trust the evidence and always appreciate the basis for the alternative view

Which of your mentors have influenced you the most?

Rita Holland and Anna Burns – Dental Nurses whose care, compassion, willingness to share their clinical experience and their professional commitment have been an enduring benchmark against which I measure myself. Susan Colqhoun and Linda Parrot – two exceptional dental colleagues who nurtured talent, provided expert advice and supportive reflection. Stephen Andrews – insight, analysis and giving me “room to manoeuvre” he embodies the model “critical friend”

How have you used mentoring throughout your career?

Probably without realising it, building critical friendships and alliances where truth and fact can be exchanged and assertion challenged.


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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