Top tips for recruiting apprentices, qualified Dental Nurses and retaining your Dental Nurses

Part one

I have now spent 21 years in Dentistry and I have never seen the industry so short of dental nurses.

I keep being asked by clients what to do? Where to find them? How to retain them? This is not just a UK problem or a problem affecting rural areas.

Over the next few months I am going to do a series of blog posts to provide some hints and tips on employing apprentice nurses, recruiting qualified nurses and retaining nurses.

For this blog I am concentrating on apprenticeships.

This role is interesting, I have had mixed results myself, however over the last few years it is clear that the only way to increase the pool of dental nurses is by having apprentices. Apprenticeships are fantastic and are the only true way to grow your own, but like anything in life you have to be prepared to take on apprentices – you can’t just employ them and throw them in at the deep end.

I know for many of you reading this being thrown in at the deep end was the way you learnt the job (me included) but is it right? The answer is no. People sink really quickly, feel stressed, unhappy and leave. In this day and age it is not the right way to induct new team members.

For an investment of £8k a year based on a 2019 UK apprenticeship salary you can have an additional team member for 39 hours per week. One day a week on average will be spent at college, and I would encourage that you give your apprentice study leave so this should equate over the year.

First and foremost when recruiting apprentices it is time to do something different – place an advert at the job centre and local schools advertising your practice’s apprenticeship opportunities recruitment open day.

My recommendation is that you look to take on two apprentices and if you a larger practice three. The reason for this is normally there is a high fallout rate in that one in every two apprentices do not continue so you may as well recruit two to start with. If you manage to keep them both then you are amazing and these nurses will deserve the opportunity to be in your practice for the long term at the start of their qualified careers. If you cannot accommodate them do not worry as at the end of the apprenticeship you can support them in finding a practice to move to, but hey why would you?

Organise a staged approach on the open day or evening:

  1. Welcome the potential apprentices and give them a tour of your practice.
  2. Do a presentation involving the owner, PM and the dental nurses. In the presentation talk about the brand story of the practice (delivered by owner or PM), the career opportunities as a dental nurse (delivered by PM), what it’s like to be a dental nurse at the practice (delivered by one of your nurses). All three sessions need to be inspiring but with the reality of what the job is and expectations.
  3. Exchange of CV’s followed by an interview with potential apprentices on the day. Keep the questions short. Two examples are: A) Why would you like to become a dental nurse apprentice? B) What do you know about our dental practice? I would recommend no more than seven questions.
  4. Practical exercises are important as dental nursing is practical so you can show elements of the job and ask them to copy you. Areas I find work well A) mixing alginate B) hand washing C) computer notes.

Once this is complete benchmark the candidates and decide who to offer your opportunities to. Remember you need to organise Hep B’s with your occupational health as soon as possible so they can work chair side.

The next stage is the induction and ongoing support. Here are my top tips:

  1. Set up an apprenticeship contract with a six month probationary period.
  2. Have a designated apprenticeship trainer, this should be a qualified nurse and someone who understands how to train your systems, can nurture and be a buddy for the apprentices. You do need to increase the pay level for this role, I would recommend 25p – 50p an hour for this additional role.
  3. You need to have set systems in place so that the training is successful and follows regulatory and brand standards.
  4. The apprentice is to have a clear plan for learning the dental nurse role, I would split this up into 12 months and have clear additional skills each month that they are going to learn.
  5. Month 1 – Start with computer systems, charting, note taking, learning dental spellings, observing different treatments, learning instruments and material names.
  6. Month 2 – Add additional roles, surgery set ups, aspiration technique, open and shut down procedures.
  7. Month 3 – Add more roles – Hep B should be completed for you to start decontamination procedures.
  8. Month 4 – Sign off systems and start to allow them to nurse with guidance on their own, but under observation. Hygienists and therapists are a good place to start to build confidence and speed.
  9. Month 5 – Sign off additional systems and start to allow them to nurse with the dentists under observation.
  10. Month 6 – Major induction review – where are they now what support do they need.
  11. Enrol them with a college placement, support them with the workload and ensure they are on track.
  12. Make sure feedback is constructive and is provided every week in a one to one meeting – ask them how the last week has been, confirm welfare and set additional goals.
  13. If there is a failure of work or attitude then swift management out is needed. As mentioned above, one in every two apprenticeships do not work out.
  14. Make sure welfare is managed, apprentices are young and need looking after, remember they are not qualified nurses so development rates will be different, sometimes the quieter apprentices become the most amazing nurses.
  15. If they complete their apprenticeship with you make sure you raise their salary to a qualified status. My recommendation is they move to £8.50 to £9.00 as a qualified nurse. You want to keep them and not have them go elsewhere when you have spent all the time on education and training.

This may have generated questions so please do get in touch and we can answer more questions in our podcasts.

I believe that we have to start inspiring and growing dental nurse numbers, it is time to act now so that school leavers in July can start at your practice in August. The early adopters will flourish long term by investing in dental nurses.


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