Setting course for a successful career
The 2017 Scottish Dental Awards’ DCP Star, Kyle Anderson, describes what he loves about being a dental nurse
Kyle Anderson isn’t the first person to have a disappointing experience with their high-school careers advisor, and he probably won’t be the last.
Instead of words of encouragement, a 16-year-old Kyle was told that his long-held dream of being a nurse was a pipe dream and that his grades simply weren’t good enough.
“I was told that I would never make it as a nurse of any kind,” said Kyle “which was really crushing, and I felt really low about myself afterwards.”
I have never looked back – now that I am in dentistry and a dental nurse, I feel like I’m where I belong
Kyle Anderson, Dental Nurse
As a result he studied hospitality management at college but had what he describes as a “rough spell” with a couple of hotel firms and found himself reassessing his career again. It was at this point that he posted a message on Facebook and a family friend Liz Alexander got in touch. She is the co-owner and manager at South West Smile Centre and offered Kyle the chance to enter the apprenticeship scheme and become a dental nurse.
He said: “I jumped at it straight away. I had always wanted to work as a nurse and dentistry seemed really interesting. I have never looked back – now that I am in dentistry and a dental nurse, I feel like I’m where I belong.”
Kyle was taken on as an apprentice by South West Smile Centre in Stranraer in 2013, qualifying at the beginning of 2015, and he is still at the same practice. However, Kyle is not just a dental nurse; he has also taken on many more roles such as reception duties and policy and HR file work. He explained: “I like to take charge of all the policies in the practice and I am responsible for updating the file regularly with new ones and also for looking after the HR file.”
He is the secondary practice first aider and he has also helped to train two new apprentice nurses at the practice. As well as this he is the general handyman around the practice, painting, changing lightbulbs or fixing fixtures and fittings. His skills also extend to computers and especially social media. He helps Liz with the practice’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and not only runs the website but was responsible for building it from scratch as well.
Kyle has also carried out various school visits, speaking to different age ranges of kids on their dental health and how to maintain it. He said: “I’ve also given a talk at the local high-school careers day about male dental nurses to try to encourage guys to go for it.”
He has completed his OHE examination and a course in orthodontics, and has recently been accepted to study a bachelor science degree in oral health science. And, if that’s not enough to be getting on with, Kyle is also a volunteer lifeboat crew member with the RNLI and he spent his summer holiday last year in Tanzania working with Bridge2Aid.
A Great Honour
Inspired by his passion and enthusiasm, Kyle was recently chosen as the winner of the DCP Star award at the Scottish Dental Awards 2017. He described his reaction when he found out: “I couldn’t believe I had been shortlisted and I got quite excited, especially to be the only male on the list. There aren’t very many of us male dental nurses around so it was nice to see my name on the list.”
On the night, however, Kyle explained that at first he didn’t realise he had won. He said: “When my name was read out, I had a brief pause for a moment and thought it was just in my mind until I realised that all my colleagues were cheering and clapping really loudly. It was a brilliant experience and a great honour to receive such an award for the whole of Scotland.
“The response from patients, colleagues and family has been amazing; it made the local newspaper and magazine, and patients coming in have been really kind having seen the newspaper and the practice social media accounts.
“Family and friends are really proud of me for gaining such an award and honour and getting recognition for the amount of work I do for the practice which I love. It’s also been great showing people my award, which now sits on display in the practice. Because, after all, it is thanks to the practice and my colleagues that I have been given the great opportunity of being a dental nurse and working at a great practice with great people helping some really amazing patients.”
Kyle said that winning the DCP Star award has really given him and the practice a lift. He said: “Winning an award like this has totally given me a boost in confidence. I also think the awards are great for recognising people for their achievements, and I think when local people see that you have won an award it makes you and the practice seem more attractive, and it is a great way to get more patients.”
From Stranraer to Tanzania
One of the most rewarding aspects of his job, Kyle said, was being able to help people who are anxious get treatment in the first place. He said: “I love the job I do, playing my part in helping people smile again. Some people haven’t been to the dentist in a long time and are really nervous about treatment. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping a patient get over their fear of the dental treatment and seeing them walk out the door with a smile. It doesn’t matter what age they are, this is the best feeling I get from my job, and it makes me walk out the door at night and really feel like I’ve helped someone during the day.”
Kyle explained that, as well as helping people, he really enjoys meeting new people and hearing their stories. He said: “Being a dental nurse gives you the chance to meet some amazing people and learn something new from them. Every day is a learning experience and I enjoy the fact that I’m always learning, even if it’s something new about my colleagues.”
It was this curiosity that led Kyle to give up his holiday allowance last year to travel to the east African nation of Tanzania to take part in Bridge2Aid’s volunteer programme. He said: “I had worked with a dentist early on in my career who had been on a similar trip and he spoke endlessly about how rewarding it was. I told myself that, as soon as I was qualified, I would sign up. So, a year after qualifying I went for it. I decided to sign up to make a real difference to people in a position far worse than we are here. I really wanted to go out and see what it was like and help people smile in another country and continent.”
Kyle raised the required £1,900 needed to take part through fundraising activities such as quizzes, a music night and other events, all helped by his friends and family. He travelled out in September 2016 and helped provide emergency treatment – mainly extractions – as well as training local health officers how to take out teeth and provide preventative lessons in nutrition and brushing techniques. In total, Kyle and his team treated more than 1,000 patients in just eight days and trained 11 out of the 12 clinical officers who were on the learning programme.
He said: “The experience was far more valuable to my career and me personally than I could have ever imagined. It was a learning experience I will never forget and it was beyond rewarding. Seeing some of the kids smiling was heart melting, and the way people thank you for relieving them of pain was very humbling.”
The clinical experience was very much “back to basics” as Kyle explained: “As a nurse the sterilisation is done using pressure cookers on a naked flame stove. It was very much stripped back to basics, no electricity (or very little) meant holding a torch and no fancy chairs, just a little wooden dinner table chair. And the heat was so intense, you constantly
have to ensure your water levels are high.
“I learned just how bad the issue is for people in rural Tanzania to get a hold of toothbrushes and toothpaste, and how to work with the very basics of instruments and equipment. We are so lucky here in the UK that we have the equipment that we have to do a good job. The people there are so thankful and happy that you were there helping, I learned a lot about myself as well, and it totally bettered me as a person.”
Beyond dentistry and the future
Outside dentistry, Kyle seems to be just as active – if not more – than he is in his professional life. He is a volunteer lifeboat crew member and could potentially be called out any time 24/7. He said: “Doing this job is risky but it’s also very rewarding like my day job. Saving lives at sea is a life commitment. I have been doing it for over a year and a half now and have been involved in some important call outs.”
As well as this, Kyle is also involved in his local drama club as an actor, producer, sound crew and club secretary. He performs at least three times a year and his love of the stage doesn’t stop there as he also plays in a band at a local pub every Friday night and gives guitar lessons to local kids.
He said: “I have a very busy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being active as it helps me meet new people and to carry on learning. This all makes me happy in life.”
Looking to the future, Kyle has no plans to slow down any time soon. On top of his very busy work and social life, he has is looking forward to starting at his studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands in September. In order to do this, he will be going part-time at the practice, but after the three-year course, he is hoping to qualify as a dental hygienist/therapist and continue working at the practice that he loves.
He said: “I decided in January that I wanted to do more and I wanted to push myself. Dentistry is the sector I love and the one that I want to be in. I want to do more for my patients so I can’t wait to start my course.”
And, while dental nursing is traditionally seen as a female occupation – according to the latest GDC stats, there were only 57 male dental nurses in Scotland, as opposed to 6,150 female – Kyle is determined to encourage more guys to sign up. He said: “To anyone who is looking to get involved in dentistry I would encourage you to go for it, especially the guys. There may be more females doing it but guys can do it too. I love my job regardless of whether I’m the only male nurse in my practice or even in my town. The satisfaction I get from my job at the end of everyday makes me so happy and it’s such a rewarding profession.
“I would also recommend being a dental nurse apprentice as you’re a learning on the job, and there is no better way to learn than first hand. So I would say go for it and get involved!”