Nicole Walker opens up about her ongoing journey from dental nurse to dentist – and why she will never give up.
I have been a dental nurse for more than five years. I started my apprenticeship at 17, having studied one year of A Levels and feeling as though I chose the wrong subjects. When scrolling through jobs, I found one for dental nursing. I thought to myself: ‘I’ll give this a go, and if I don’t like it, I’ll try A levels again.’
I had never considered a job within dentistry! But I got the job and from my first day shadowing in surgery, I found my true calling. I immediately found passion for this industry, every day becoming increasingly eager to learn. I picked the role up quite well, and still to this day enjoy all aspects of the job.
In particular, I like crown preparations as I enjoy mixing, and I find root canal treatment extremely fascinating. This isn’t something I hear many nurses say! Shortly into my apprenticeship and studying for my diploma in dental nursing, I realised I wanted more involvement in patient care. I started to look into pathways of moving up in the world of dentistry.
Why not dentistry?
I considered additional nursing qualifications such as radiography, sedation, impression taking, and fluoride application. I also looked into dental hygiene and therapy. Colleagues often asked me: ‘Why not study dentistry?’ I replied with the same response each time: ‘Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not smart enough.’
Coming to the end of my diploma, I decided I wanted to study hygiene and therapy. But I stuck to nursing for a few years to gain some experience. Around two years passed and I changed practice to be closer to home. While at this practice, I applied for college to study an Access to Higher education qualification in biochemistry, as this would set me up nicely for dental hygiene and therapy.
During my application process, my practice placed me in surgery full time with one of the associates I hadn’t really worked with. As the weeks went on working with this dentist, I found myself asking him more questions. I wanted to know intricate details of what he was doing, what he was diagnosing, treatment options etc. He was always happy to explain to me and teach me his ways of thinking.
The constant questioning into diagnosis and more complex treatment made me realise maybe hygiene and therapy wasn’t enough for me either. I wanted to make my own decisions, plan my own treatment, and have the ultimate responsibility of patient care.
The dentist in question is the best I’ve worked with in my five years of nursing – I cannot fault him. His standard of treatment, care, ethics, communication and passion is absolutely astounding. It is through assisting him chair-side and learning from him that inspired me to do dentistry and begin my journey to BDS. I’m hoping to be like him when I graduate!
I applied to four universities for dentistry. I sat my UCAT admissions exam and got a decent score, but unfortunately not as high as I would have liked. Three universities rejected me, based on competitiveness and my UCAT score. The fourth university (the one I wanted the most) held my application until late on deadline day to give out offers and, sadly, rejected me due to number of places.
They did, however, offer me an alternative degree to study for one year while reapplying for dentistry if I wish. The hardest part of this process was the rejections and feeling as though maybe I was right – maybe I’m not good enough to do this. After some time to think, I decided to accept the offer, to study cellular and molecular medicine in Bristol and I would reapply for dentistry.
More determined than ever
I have sat my UCAT exam for the second time recently, and scored much better than last year. I have graduated college with 45 distinctions, equating to 3 A*. I’m now in the process of preparing to move away to start my alternative degree, while also preparing my application once again.
If any dental nurses are reading this and want to study dentistry – but are doubting themselves – DO IT! I spent so long telling myself I wasn’t good enough. I know I am wrong now and I’m more determined than ever!
Also, don’t let coronavirus put you off. I have heard of people being put off from dentistry following the COVID-19 pandemic, which is somewhat understandable. My devotion to this career cannot be overridden, no matter what hurdles I face along the way.
Pandemic or not, I will get there in the end. I am particularly interested in periodontics and restorative dentistry, and hope to specialise in one of these areas in the future once graduated!
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