Postdoctoral dental training

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To become a dental clinical academic you will need to complete a postgraduate qualification, such as a PhD, to gain a substantive post in academia. Dental clinical academics are also required to complete some level of NHS-recognised clinical competency to match their peers.

Gaining a PhD

In order to become a clinical academic with responsibilities for research, you will need to gain a PhD. During a PhD you will produce original research which expands the boundaries of existing knowledge in the field of dentistry. A full-time PhD usually takes three years to complete and can be pursued part time during practice in primary or community dental services or during or after specialist training.

Dentists who wish to be involved in teaching but not research may be able to hold a post with NHS clinical qualifications alongside a . However, the award of a PhD will often provide a broader range of career options in academia, in areas such as research, teaching and leadership.

In the clinical academic training pathway, a PhD usually follows the completion of an Academic Clinical Fellowship and is taken alongside, or after, specialist training. A PhD could also be taken as part of a Clinical Fellowship post within a university and be followed by specialist training. Following the award of a PhD and completion of specialist training, dentists may apply for senior positions within a faculty, for example, as a senior lecturer and honorary consultant.

NIHR Clinical Lectureship

The NIHR Clinical Lectureship (CL) is a postdoctoral award that provides a clinical and academic training environment for dentists to further develop their postdoctoral research portfolio and establish themselves as independent researchers and leaders in their chosen field. It is a four-year fellowship comprising 50% clinical training and 50% postdoctoral research, with a flexible entry level tailored to the individual career stage of the applicant. For dental graduates, the CL represents the second substantive phase of integrated clinical and academic training for dental graduates whom have completed foundation training and already hold a PhD (or equivalent).

The CL phase of integrated academic training is aimed at dentists:

  1. Entering a General Dental Council (GDC) recognised specialty training programme at ST1 or above
  2. Post-CCST entry is available for Paediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics trainees
  3. General Dental Practitioners (GDPs) who wish to develop an academic career.

Full details on NIHR CLs, including the eligibility criteria, are available in on the NIHR website.

Career development after a PhD

Early career clinicians who are applying to an academic post with a PhD and a substantial research portfolio may choose to follow a ‘Teaching and Research’ pathway with clinical training and further research development.

A ‘Teaching and Scholarship’ pathway allows the development of clinical training alongside teaching-focused research. Both the ‘Teaching and Research’ and ‘Teaching and Scholarship’ posts may lead to a Senior Lecturer or Senior Clinical Teacher/Honorary Consultant appointment.

Senior Lecturer or Senior Clinical Teachers, without an Honorary Consultant role, are also quite common and are often held by individuals whose emphasis has been on academic, rather than clinical, training.

With further promotions Senior Lecturers and Senior Clinical Teachers can become Readers or Professors. A Reader is an academic with both senior-level experience and an international reputation for their academic or research contributions. A Professor is the highest academic title awarded to individuals at the top of their respective field. 

Further reading