Are you struggling to recruit?: Probe

At the end of 2015, there were 41,095 dentists registered with the General Dental Council (GDC) – a small increase from the previous year.[i] Despite these growing numbers there is evidence to suggest that some practices are struggling to recruit associates. This is particularly true for those offering NHS services.

One of the reasons behind this is a shortcoming of dentists with Performer Numbers, which means there is an undersupply of licensed candidates available to work in the NHS. Obtaining a Performer Number can be somewhat of a long winded and drawn out process with a lot of paperwork involved.

Because the process can be time-consuming and practices are often on a tight schedule, employers can sometimes end up just requesting applicants that already have a Performer Number. As a result, some dentists end up getting overlooked and practices miss out on taking on a promising individual that could have been an asset to the business. Smaller, more rural practices on the other hand are much more likely to offer a job to someone without a Performer Number due to lack of choice. As I’ve seen many times before, though, these practices run the risk of an employee handing in their resignation shortly after receiving their Performer Number to pursue a job in the city.

Because UK dentists automatically graduate with a Performer Number after the completion of their foundation training, there are no restrictions as they enter the world of employment – unless they leave the UK for 12 months, in which case their number is often archived and they are back to square one. In contrast, some foreign applicants have to pass the overseas registration exam (ORE) before they can register with the GDC, apply for their Performer Number and take on jobs. For some, this process can take up to two years and leaves a number of dentists without a job and practices without great applicants.

The other possible reason why practices occasionally struggle to find suitable staff despite a superabundance of dentists is that too many applicants either require mentorship or don’t have enough experience. At the end of the day practices have UDAs that must be completed and if a dentist with little experience cannot meet their allocated target, the practice will end up with a UDA deficit. In my experience, NHS practices also tend to prefer dentists with UK experience and knowledge of the NHS and UDA systems.

Then there is the matter of dentists that are looking to specialise somewhere down the line. It can be difficult for a general practice to take on someone who has ambition to become a specialist, because they are either going to leave or request that they go part-time to practise elsewhere. As such, some businesses are reluctant to take on such individuals, which in turn means they are required to consider applicants that might actually be less suitable for the vacancy.

And that’s not to mention the impact that competition has upon the recruitment process, not just from an associates perspective but also from an employers. To attract the best dentists in the profession, practices are now offering what is known as a golden hello – a one off payment of anywhere between £1,000 and £10,000 to entice them into joining the practice. This is usually tied in with a clause so that if they leave within the first 24 months of their contract, they’ll be required to pay that money back.

We have also noticed a rise in the price being offered to dentists per UDA, which is also likely to attract a high calibre of ambitious dentists. Before, the going rate was £10 per unit in most cities and towns. In an effort to make contracts more appealing to top tier candidates, however, some practices are now offering £10.50 to £11.00 per UDA – and that number could well creep up over the coming months. The other popular financial incentive is to offer commission for referring a patient to the hygienist.

A tactic used by larger, more established practices is to offer more clinical freedom to associates looking for a less regimented work environment. From what I’ve seen, the practices that tend to be most successful are usually those that are more forward thinking in their approach with staff. This includes allowing staff to have more flexibility in their working hours to attend training and to continue with their studies.

It is also important to remember to be forthcoming with applicants about the patients that are on the books, for instance, the ratio of private to NHS, demographics and so on. This can help to give them an idea of what it would be like working for the practice.

With so many factors to take into consideration, recruiting an associate is no easy feat. For that reason it can be prudent to enlist the services of a specialist agency such as Dental Elite. With the right help and expertise, the profession can operate at its full potential.