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Polly's Blog - Owning Your Career

In This Week's Polly's Blog - I was delighted to feature in July's Dental Nursing Education and Career section and I had a delightful conversation with Clementine Rees Brown From Dental Nursing to discuss her surprising path to her career in dentistry.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your early career?

I qualified as a dental nurse back in 1992 from Birmingham Dental Hospital and then

worked in general practice and hospitals. I moved to Preston, working in an orthodontic referral practice for the NHS, where I trained as a dental nurse tutor. Before moving, though, I completed every post-qualification that a dental nurse could do – oral health

education, radiography, sedation – you name it, I did it! I knew that I wanted to get

involved in the patient’s journey in any way I could. It was whilst working in Preston I

went to college in the evenings and gained my teaching qualification. I then taught an

evening dental nursing course (the NEBDN course). In 1999 I moved back to the Midlands

and worked as a full-time tutor, which was a truly rewarding time. That particular year

I had the highest pass rate compared to the national average in the country. I also

examined twice a year for the NEBDN. I taught for a few years before applying for the

territory manager position with Oral B and got the job!

with Oral B must have been a formative experience, where did that lead you?

Fast forward five years, my line manager came on a ‘field visit’ with me and decided

she wanted to progress my role as she quickly realised that if she didn’t develop me,

she would lose me to a competitor. She told me to go away for a week and come up witha new job title and plan for what I wanted to do and how I wanted to progress, which was exciting and daunting. Eventually, this led to many opportunities, including working with dental schools presenting to the undergrads, key opinion leaders, and key associations such as BSDHT, BAPD, and BSP; working in collaboration with BSP and Oral B, I managed to get the Oral B logo onto BSP guidelines. This was unheard of as BSP didn’t associate themselves with any oral health company and this was a first for both organizations.

Then in 2006, Oral B was acquired by Proctor and Gamble for 64 billion dollars,

which was quite a game changer. It brought in a different way of working, and shockingly

they gave me a small team and sent me to work in Western Europe to recruit and train

others, spreading the word about power brushes and mirroring what I had achieved in

the UK. The goal was to clinically challenge key opinion leaders and give as much helpful

information about the products as possible so that they could make an informed choice

based on the evidence presented. I was in and out of Europe, covering all of these different events, pregnant with my third child, when I met a dentist at The dentistry show in March 2010, and he mentioned a practice he had in Wolverhampton, the fact he was having some personal issues at that time and that he wanted to sell it. Do you know when you just have one of those ‘lightbulb moments’? I suggested we meet for a coffee to discuss it more that evening, and a few months later 1st of July, I found myself owning a five-surgery practice! And the rest is history, as they say.

How did you find the initial response felt towards you as the new owner?

The overwhelming majority of the time, it felt like people were looking at me, thinking,

‘Who are you?’ It turned out that the team hadn’t been informed that the practice had

been sold. That was the first time I really felt the attitude of ‘Why are you running

a practice… what do you know?’ and, of course, the classic response of ‘You’re just a

nurse!’ I knew that, of course, but I could work it out and create a workplace where

everyone would feel valued and respected. The first few months were definitely challenging, but it honestly was the best professional decision I had ever made. The

ethos was always ‘patients first’, but we also had a business… So I had to put a stop

to decisions made by the long-standing associates (previous owners) such as not

charging a patient for a crown because they brought in a ‘lovely hamper at Christmas!’ or

not charging for a filling because the patient ‘brings in a lovely piece of fish!’. Once I had

the confidence to address these issues, most clinicians were very much on my side.

In 2015 I went to a Denplan conference and got chatting with a group of

dentists, and apparently, the success I had at my current practice had reached their

ears. They then offered me to come and look at their practice… By the end of that

year, we bought seven new practices! I knew I couldn’t do it all on my own, even

with my name on the NHS contract, a friend of mine who was a barrister joined me,

another colleague came in to work on clinical guidance, and now between us, we have a

small group of ten practices. We created Tri-Dental. My passion for the work is still there;

outside of all this - I still examine twice a year and now with my own training academy, I can train my own nurses, which in return will help with recruitment and retention, whilst fully versed in the culture of Treetops.

You’ve mentioned that you came up against some challenges regarding being ‘just a dental nurse’ in a variety of settings and roles. What were your feelings before making these big career decisions?

Like so many others, I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome. Sometimes I have to

pinch myself when I pull into the practice car park, and it hits me just how responsible I am for all the people at the practice, including their well-being, health and safety, and it makes me feel genuinely proud. It can be nerve-wracking at times, but I always remind myself that I have my core values and know the difference between right and wrong, always putting the patient first and wanting to run a truly successful business.

How have you navigated the business of recruiting?

It is so vital that the people you recruit are aligned with your ethos and

values. I have always believed in the saying, ‘Recruit slow, but fire fast’. If there

is someone who is not a team player and doesn’t buy into the values you hold as a

practice, then it really is best for everyone, including them, that they go. If they stay, it isn’t healthy for either the business or the team morale. I believe in being surrounded

by people comfortable with open and transparent communication, accepting constructive criticism, and acknowledging that no one is ‘bigger’ or more important

than anybody else.

How have you found it possible to balance having a growing family and such a

demanding career?

This has always been a really tricky one. I did a presentation on this very subject not

too long ago at the ‘Women in Dentistry’ conference, as obviously, this is a female-led

profession, so something that arises as a challenge often. It comes down to the

support mechanisms you have around you, both in your professional and personal

lives. This means your partner, in-laws, parents, and friends become part of your

support network. It is a case of empowering and trusting others to take the lead and

share your vision at work. When you are sure that you have the right people in

your armoury, it is all the easier to step back when it is needed and let others

run’ instead of feeling the need to hover constantly. I’m fortunate to have a great

relationship with my practice manager Louise White, who is incredibly hardworking

and passionate about ‘patient first ethos’. We have a wonderful relationship because we both share a long-term vision, and our fundamental values are aligned. Our focus is our patients, our team, and our community, which are the ingredients for the perfect practice culture. Using software like Agilio helps keep things more straightforward and automated. As a business owner, however, I am not sure there is ever such a thing as ‘striking the perfect balance’. When you’re on holiday, you can try to ‘switch off’, maybe for a day excursion or an evening, but there is always something that you want to check in on or a few emails that you can give your attention to so my inbox is not overflowing

on my return!

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