A recruitment crisis in dental nursing?
The Office for National Statistics reported that job vacancies have hit a record high, with the number of vacancies in the three months leading to August rising above one million for the first time since records began in 2001. [i] But while an abundance of employment opportunities seems positive news, there are cautionary warnings that a shortfall in labour could dampen the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
The dental profession appears to be amongst those particularly impacted with the ‘Human health and social work’ sector (167k) topping the list for those listing the most job vacancies between June and August, followed by ‘Hospitality’ (134k). [ii] I’ve certainly found that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find dental nurses to fill vacancies during the pandemic. I also know of principals in London practices who would have recruited professionals with relative ease prior to the COVID-19 outbreak that are now struggling.
Where are all the dental nurses?
There are a potential range of issues, both long-term and new, contributing to the emerging recruitment crisis in dental nursing.
The BBC recently reported that Cornwall has overtaken London this year as the most searched for location on Rightmove, [iii] reflecting the wider pandemic-induced trend of people moving out of London and other major cities. This could be reducing the pool of potential dental nurses. I’ve also found that people are reluctant to travel on public transport in general, which could be exacerbating the issue in these urban locations.
It also relates to the role itself and associated remuneration. During the past 18 months especially, dental nurses have been be exposed to high levels of physical contact and the associated infection risk, while having to follow strict practice policies. Many dental nurses seem to be finding that it’s just not worth it any more, knowing that they could get similar or higher wages in retail or hospitality with far less stress. As a result, some are sadly looking to move out of dentistry altogether.
What needs to change?
Even pre-pandemic, there were concerns regarding pay for dental nurses when considering what was involved, but recent events have increased the pressures and made people further reflect on their careers and lives in general. To avoid a negative impact on the future of the dental profession, things need to change for more people to consider dental nursing a rewarding career path in which they will feel valued.
This might be achieved by offering more incentive for people to choose the role. For example, encouraging and facilitating career progression is key, such as providing the opportunity to move into other roles like treatment coordinator or practice manager. This should highlight the role as one full of opportunities to expand and evolve.
In addition, fair and competitive remuneration is crucial and often, increasing pay by even 50p an hour could make a difference and attract a different level of candidate. Of course, this is not the only financial aspect to think about. Others such as covering General Dental Council fees or indemnity fees may also help to entice dedicated and talented team members to a practice.
Recognising the value of dental nurses
While the dental nurse role does not directly bring in revenue, it is integral to delivering quality patient care, essential for dentists to do their job and key to ensuring the success of the practice. For these reasons, it is critical to recognise the value of existing dental nurses and to work on retaining them for longer. Could you supplement their pay with bonuses when they train new people? Can they be rewarded for aiding patient retention in some way? In many situations, it is more feasible to pay them more and retain them as a valuable resource than it would be to lose them.
Recruit the right way
To attract the right dental nurses to your team, it is important to highlight the benefits available at your practice. Your job adverts should do more than list tasks and responsibilities alongside a salary – demonstrate the opportunities and advantages available as well. Would they be working with specialist clinicians or have access to career progression opportunities? Could they join exciting social activities or be working for a practice that aligns with their ethical and environmental philosophies? Maybe they would be working in a great location with national parks or beaches nearby, or somewhere that is easy to commute to? Practices need to sell themselves to appeal to the right candidates. It also pays to be flexible. If an applicant has more experience, consider increasing the salary – their hire could bring in patients and make up the difference. Taking on trainee dental nurses where there is capacity may be another solution.
To ensure you recruit the right dental nurses, or any other members of the team, Dental Elite offers expert advice and support. We have a strong database of candidates for you to benefit from and we monitor market trends to help you overcome the challenges seen across the profession. We also work on a contingency fee basis so there are no fees until a successful candidate is introduced and employed.
We are in difficult times, but it is essential to value every member of staff – including your dental nurses. You’re going to need them!
[i] The Office for National Statistics. ‘Labour market overview, UK: September 2021’. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/uklabourmarket/september2021. [Last accessed 14.09.2021].