Staff training and retention: why it matters

Staff training and retention: why it matters

Staff training and retention: why it matters

by Cary Cray-Webb and Molly Sibson

When we started writing our previous article, we thought it was going to be a quick summary of the qualification routes into dental nursing, and some ideas about further training. As we talked it through we realised that the topic affects not just the nurses themselves, but also the businesses and surgeries they work for.

We believe that one of the biggest issues currently impacting dentistry is the high turn-over of nursing staff, particularly those qualified for less than five years. One of the reasons for this is the lack of opportunity for career progression. This second article looks at some of the options available to nurses today.

Training is an investment – recruitment is a cost

Something we have in common is that we both enjoy training other nurses and apprentices. We both really get something extra out of it.

Molly’s current role is mostly involved in assessment, and Cary does some on-the-job training with apprentices at her practice and is considering qualification as an assessor.

As we stated in our previous article, very few practices or even corporates have formal on-going training staff focused on nurses. But with a shortfall of qualified staff developing, this is an area that needs to be considered.

How do you become a tutor/assessor?

For Molly, training felt like a natural progression.“After I qualified as a nurse I found a distance learning course leading to the assessor’s award. It took me less than a year to complete. I then looked for a role and jumped at an opportunity with Learn Direct. I was with them for 9-months, then managed to find a role at Derby College.”

As with most assessor’s roles, Learn Direct took Molly out and about, but she really needed something that had a fixed base to fit in with her personal life, Additionally. her Learn Direct role was all about the assessments.

As she says; “At Derby College, I work alongside the tutors and build up a relationship both with them and the students I’m assessing. I think it’s particularly good for the students to see and have that interaction.”

So, what if you don’t want to be a tutor or assessor?

There are still plenty of ways for nurses to progress within the profession. The most obvious is to take additional specialist courses in subjects such as implantation, anaesthetics, orthodontics, topical fluoride and topical anaesthetic application, radiography, and impression taking.

However, few practices are currently organised to provide opportunities to make use of these qualifications. Even fewer seem prepared to finance and support nurses who want to take them.<

In the Navy

The forces – or perhaps more accurately the RAF – have always been a pioneer of dental care, originally because they’d rather airmen were dodging bullets than at home with toothache exacerbated by altitude. It is often claimed that the RAF introduced the role of dental hygienist to the UK for this reason. But it remains true that the forces all have excellent dental facilities and teams, and unending demand for nurses.

We’re not advocating that every dental nurse packs in their civilian job to join the forces, but there are many opportunities for part-time reservists if you’re fit enough and that way inclined, and some excellent opportunities to work as a civilian on military bases.

For the civilian roles, you will most definitely require additional qualifications. However, pay and conditions are good, and you do get the opportunity to perform additional treatments.

Be a bit more Springsteen

For some nurses, the complex responsibilities of being ‘the boss’ would be a nightmare. For others, the practice manager is the way they want to go.

There are courses to help, though many of them require you to already be in a management position. These are mostly distance learning or online-based, so you also need to be a self-sufficient learner. For example, the Open Study College offers a Dental Practice Management on-line course.

They want you, they want you…

This might not be popular with employers reading this article, but as a nurse, have you ever thought of a spell in recruiting?

Recruitment companies working in the dentistry and medical professions always need nurses to help match the right candidates to roles.

Think about it – as a candidate you would have a lot of questions about your potential employer, some very technical. A recruiting employer needs advice about qualifications, salaries and what a nurse or dentist ‘wants’ out of a potential employer.

Keep your CPD and registration up to date. This will help you return to nursing when the time is right.

I’ll be your substitute, whenever you want me…

Working as a locum nurse can be a very appealing option, and usually has an attractive hourly pay rate. However, unless you live in an urban area, you need to be able and prepared to travel. You also need the flexibility to fit irregular working patterns at short notice.

You’ll be in most demand when everyone else is off having fun on holiday (or suffering from a flu epidemic). There’s also very little job security, You, therefore, need to think about how this will fit into your personal life.

There’s no doubt that being a locum can be a very rewarding and enjoyable way of life for some, particularly if you want variety and to gain broader experience. Do your research first.


One area we would definitely encourage ambitious nurses to research is becoming a hygienist, therapist or technician. If you have a very strong academic background you could even consider retraining as a dentist.

However, all of these roles require a degree or equivalent qualification, and most of the courses on offer are full-time. This obviously means applying to accredited universities and colleges for a place on the appropriate course.

You will need the resources and commitment to come out of employment and become a full-time student.  Most of these courses have limited numbers and extensive competition for places. However, some people will find the rewards (intellectual and financial) worth the pain of completing the training. And you may be able to part-finance your studies with some locum nursing work.

And the point is…

We’ve described several options that can help nurses develop their careers. Some will keep you within your current practice, most will keep you within nursing, and all will keep you within dentistry.

It is often said that if you train your staff so they are qualified to leave, they’ll probably stay. It is usually true! Training is widely recognised as a motivation behind staff loyalty.

As a nurse, if you want to take additional qualifications, build a strong business case for your employer. This may or may not include funding the course because they will always need to put resources in to help you with practical experience and assessments. Be aware that this is sometimes a considerable investment of time. But always give your employer a clearly defined benefit to them for putting you through or sponsoring that course.

If you are an employer, build a pipe-line of courses for your nurses that do more than just cover your CQC obligations for first aid etc. Find courses that benefit your nurses, even if you can’t see an immediate benefit to your practice. Providing such a programme will make your nurses more inclined to stay with you, even though they are qualified to go elsewhere. And develop roles within your practice that allow them to use their qualifications.

If you’re course provider, think about the way your course is going to help nurses progress their career. Giving them the opportunity to know more is great, but how will your course help them take on more responsibility and earn more in the real world?

Whatever you think about training, we’d ask you to think about this often-quoted adage, usually attributed to Richard Branson or someone similar: What happens if you train your staff and they leave? What happens if you don’t train your staff and they stay?

About the writers

Molly Sibson

Molly Sibson is a tutor/assessor at Derby College, working with NVQ students attending the college. She trained as a dental nurse, qualifying in 2013, and progressed to senior nurse and then practice manager. On the way she also qualified as an assessor. She then moved to a role with Learn Direct assessing distance-learning students before joining the staff at Derby College.

Cary Cray-Webb is a dental nurse. She qualified in 2015 and currently works for one of the big-two corporate chains having started at the other one. In between, she also worked for a small chain. Cary has now gained experience at four very different practices in her four years of nursing.

Cary is also a director of Precision PR Limited, a specialist marketing company whose clients include the Pearl brand from BHA Software.

‘In The Navy’ is a song by US vocal group ‘The Village People’. “They want you, they want you …” is from the middle-eight of this song.
US rock singer Bruce Springsteen is knick-named ‘The Boss’
Refers to the song ‘Substitute’ by the band ‘Clout’
‘Therapy?’ is an ‘alternative metal’ band from Northern Ireland


Cary Cray-Webb