Five years at dental school, one as a vocational dental trainee, and two as an associate in general dental practice. And still I was in no way prepared for the daunting challenge I was to face working as a maxfax SHO at Royal Blackburn Hospital.
On the first day, on the very first ward round, as dentists and new maxfax recruits we were being fired complex medical scenarios that surely only seasoned medical trainees would obviously know, but in retrospect were relatively simple medical questions that any 5th year medical student could easily answer.
I was trying to jog my memory back to my medicine and surgery lectures, which at the time I thought were way too detailed for dentists. The most complex thing I intended to be doing was carving beautifully shaped fillings into people's teeth and the ever complex molar root canal therapy.
Luckily enough our senior colleagues knew of our limited or nil experience and knowledge in the maxfax specialty. It was a classical setting of 'see one, do one' or in some circumstances 'describe one, do one'.
The first time I sutured a complex facial laceration I took a long time and insisted on having a senior colleague review the patient before discharging him. I quickly became very adept and took great pride in the fine 6/0 sutures I placed as well as enjoying the thanks from the many patients I treated. Many were distressed at presentation with horrific facial wounds and were amazed at their end result.
As I was planning to return to general dentistry after my stint in maxfax, I thought the notion of having to do on-call shifts wouldn’t be useful for my career and just be a necessary burden I had to endure to gain my surgical experience. However whilst holding the bleep I did deal with some hairy situations, like being one of the first responders to an emergency trauma call in A&E or dealing with a crash call on the ward. And thanks to the support of my senior colleagues it was something I was able to manage with ease, particularly towards the end of the year.
We also covered ENT on-call at night and at weekends, which was immensely rewarding from the sheer experience and skills gained outside of my own profession. After a while I even began to enjoy packing bleeding noses and scoping patients.
As a maxfax trainee I was learning at an exponential rate from inspiring individuals whilst at the same time gaining vital character building skills that would benefit me for years to come not to mention a new found respect for every medical professional I come across.
Throughout the year I did have a phrase ready to be used should the need arise. This was: 'I'm not a doctor, I'm just a dentist and I don't know what I'm doing. Please help me.’ Luckily I never had to say it.
Sunil Farmah is a career development post trainee in a dental foundation training scheme in the north west deanery
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