Postgraduate dental training

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Dental graduates considering a clinical academic career may pursue an academic training post or seek to engage in research or teaching alongside their formal training programme. To become a clinical academic, the qualified dentist must first complete Dental Foundation Training or Vocational Training, obtain the relevant dental postgraduate diploma (MFDS/MJDF) and undertake a PhD alongside or after clinical training. They must undertake the same clinical training as their peers in dental practice.

Dental Foundation Training / Vocational Training

To practice dentistry in the NHS, dental graduates must complete Dental Foundation Training (DFT) if based in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or Vocational Training (VT) if based in Scotland. The DFT/VT year combines clinical practice with study days to prepare the newly qualified graduate for a career as a dentist.

For those considering a clinical academic career, bespoke programmes such as Longitudinal DFT schemes or General Professional Training schemes may provide more opportunities to get involved with research and/or teaching. Both schemes combine the Dental Foundation Training or Vocational Training year with the first year of Dental Core Training (DCT1) and allow the trainee to alternate between working in general practice and hospital dentistry. Typically, a limited number of posts within the schemes will offer protected research time for trainees to complete a research project.

Taking a Longitudinal DFT or General Professional Training scheme is not the only pathway into clinical academia. Providing dental care and treatment as a Dental Foundation Trainee will generate many opportunities to reflect on how treatment and patient care could be improved. The trainee may therefore wish to pursue research, teaching and care improvement activities such as clinical audits which relate to their area of interest alongside their Dental Foundation Training or Vocational Training.

Postgraduate diplomas – MFDS/MJDF

The Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery (MFDS) is an internationally recognised dental qualification which enables dental graduates to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and clinical competence that will have been obtained during Dental Foundation Training. The assessment is based on the Dental Foundation Training curriculum and can be taken as early as one year post-qualification.

The benefit of taking the MFDS for those pursuing a clinical academic career is that it marks a level of achievement above and beyond the primary undergraduate dental degree and clearly exhibits an early commitment to professional development. For those aspiring to enter specialty training, it will also provide a significant contribution to the portfolio of evidence that would be required to indicate suitable eligibility.

Previously, the Membership of the Joint Dental Faculties (MJDF) was offered as an alternate assessment to the MFDS. The MJDF exam is no longer offered but the qualification remains valid for those who have achieved the diploma.

Dental Core Training

Dental Core Training (DCT) is an optional period of postgraduate training which extends from the end of Dental Foundation Training or Vocational Training to the start of specialty training, specialist practice, generalist practice or many other possible career options. It is not mandatory for trainees to continue into DCT posts to pursue a clinical academic career but it is a good option for those who wish to increase their exposure to different aspects of dentistry before deciding whether to enter primary care or undertake specialty training.

The DCT programme has multiple entry and exit points and a varied duration from one to three years. The majority of DCT posts are based in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS) Units. The remainder are based in a variety of specialties in dental hospitals as well as community dental services and general dental practice. Increasingly, more posts are being developed in primary dental care and academia through Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) posts at DCT level.

Completing postgraduate training is a requirement for entry to most dental specialty training programmes and therefore a career as a dental clinical academic in those specialist areas. DCT posts allow the dentist to spend time developing their portfolio in areas such as research and education which are instrumental in demonstrating commitment to a career as a dental clinical academic.

NIHR In-Practice Fellowship

The NIHR In-Practice Fellowship (IPF) is an optional step in the training pathway which provides pre-doctoral academic training to qualified general dental practitioners and community dentists. This award aims to equip dentists with the skills and experience to prepare an application for a competitive, peer-reviewed doctoral level research training fellowship.

Undertaking an NIHR In-Practice Fellowship is not a requirement for applying for an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship, though it may make the applicant more competitive. Full details on NIHR IFPs, including the eligibility criteria, are available on the NIHR website.

NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowships

Dentists in dental core training, specialist training, or general dental practice can apply for an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) with entry between DCT1 and ST3. This is the first phase of integrated clinical and academic training for dental graduates which have completed Dental Foundation Training or Vocational Training. Over three years the Academic Clinical Fellow will spend 75% of their time in clinical training and 25% of their time carrying out research or teaching. All NIHR Academic Clinical Fellows are provided with Masters-level training to develop their research skills.

The ACF phase of integrated academic training is aimed at dentists who fulfil one of the following criteria:

  1. Entering a General Dental Council (GDC) recognised specialty training programme at ST1
  2. Entering Dental Core Training (DCT)
  3. General Dental Practitioners (GDPs) who wish to develop an academic career.

The primary purpose of the ACF is to provide a clinical and academic training environment for a dentist to prepare an application for a Training Fellowship leading to a PhD (or equivalent) or, in cases where the applicant has already undertaken a relevant PhD, a postdoctoral fellowship. Full details on NIHR ACFs, including the eligibility criteria, are available in on the NIHR website.

Clinical Fellowships

Some universities offer Clinical Fellowships that allow the Clinical Fellow to spend 50% of their time on clinical teaching and 50% of their time on research. These posts fund a PhD under staff regulations for the post-holder. Clinical Fellowships will usually require the applicant to have completed at least the first year of Dental Core Training (DCT1). Clinical Fellowships do not have a national application process and must be applied to locally. Those considering a Clinical Fellowship should enquire with dental schools to find out if they offer Clinical Fellowship posts.

Further reading