24 April 2017
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No DF1? You are not alone.

No DF1? You are not alone.

I am one of many 5th year dental students in the UK that applied to, but unfortunately did not get given a DF1 vocational training post in the first iteration.

Like everyone else on January 9th 2013, I was eagerly anticipating the buzz and merry jingle from my phone which told me I had received the all important e-mail. Everyone I had seen in the dental school that morning looked tense, there was no indication from COPDEND whether the e-mails were being sent out at 9am sharp, or after the working day. Rumours flew thick and fast that e-mails were being distributed a deanery at a time, that some had already received theirs at other Universities. “Any time now” was the common misconception. 

Having made it through the morning tutorials that seemed to drag so sluggishly, I had the afternoon off from dental school. In an attempt to hurry through time, to take my mind off the issue, to project my anxiety on something else, to look at something other than my phone, I played video games.

3 hours ticked by and still, nothing. Searching through Facebook and Twitter for any mention or hashtag of DF1 proved futile. Finally, at 3:31pm, my phone came alive, and there it was: “donotreply, Important Information from London Deanery”. My heart raced as I fumbled to open the e-mail, excited to learn where my first official job would be. I started reading:

“Thank you for attending a selection centre for the above recruitment process.” … all seems fine, a courteous start to an important e-mail…

”We write to inform you that the offers process has now closed and that all currently available training placements commencing in 2013 have been allocated.” … Good, no real issue here.

At this point, my eyes begin to wander, scanning the screen for any big bold lettering that declared my allocation. No such luck. I continued reading…

”Therefore, we are unable to make an offer to you at present and you have been placed on the reserve list.”… My heart sank, my mouth dried, my eyes swelled. I rubbed my eyes, blinked profusely and read it again, and again, and again. The words lay lifeless on the screen.

”we are unable to make an offer to you”.

I had frequently daydreamed about this moment. None of my daydreams looked like this.

5 minutes later, my phone buzzed in my hand. It’s London Deanery again. Naively, my mind jumped to conclusions. “This must be the ‘JUST KIDDING’ e-mail! Or ‘Sorry, we sent that to the wrong candidate!’.” No such lols. Just my ranking, 1023. My heart sinks again.

A huge wave of self doubt, despair and shame crashed over my world. Naturally, I started putting “1023″ into words. Incompetent, unemployable, deluded, unfit, useless, inept. This was definitely a low point, I have never doubted myself as much as I have done since receiving the news. Am I really that bad a communicator?

I had to make the journey home, but I couldn’t bear bumping into anyone, I stared at the floor the entire time and locked myself in my room to reflect. What I now know, is that this was the worst thing I could have done at this time.

Over the last couple of days, life has had to return to normal. I had to see my patients at uni again and news of other people in my position broke out.

Back on clinic, I felt extremely self conscious. As though everyone was watching me, expecting me to say something unprofessional, to see for themselves why I ranked so poorly.

I nervously went through the usual spiel of OHI and treatment planning with my patients. To my surprise, they were locked on to my every word and their apparent enthusiasm to comply with my advice began to pick up the pieces of my shattered confidence. Talking to people openly about my predicament made no difference to what had happened, but made life so much easier. I felt much less alone.

I had never thought that I would rank so low as to not be allocated a place, after all, I have reached 5th year without any discontent from the patients that I have seen, or any tutor questioning my professionalism. Then again, I’m sure no-one else thought this would happen to them either. The undoubted competence of my peers in the same position and the seemingly genuine surprise on the faces of my tutors began to soften the blow. Maybe I just had a bad day, maybe I simply flailed under the pressure.

I have an amazing bunch of friends and they have collectively helped me to realise, this is not as disastrous as it immediately seems. Essentially, this article is so I can try and portray that realisation to everyone else currently in this position with me.

Last years statistics are in our favour. 35 graduates ended up unemployed with roughly the same amount of unallocated candidates at this stage. As long as we keep our heads down and get the degree, we are still realistically in contention for a job. People reject their placements, unfortunately some fail finals, some move abroad. There will be spaces freed up come June. Indeed, moving abroad may be an option for us too, and some may already have put in applications for Scotland DVT.

If history doesn’t repeat itself however, then there are potential House Officer jobs intended as a stop gap, and reapplication next year only means we are 6-12 months behind the rest of the year. Who knows, with the spectrum of work and experience you can gain from a year as a House Officer, it might spur us on to specialise. Or, at the very least, make us more rounded clinicians and better prepared for next years round of applications.

There are some 200 of us in this position, we can’t let one failed job application (which may still be successful!) take away all the work of the last five years. What would be catastrophic was for this to lead to a chain of self doubt and lack of motivation that meant we didn’t get a BDS or BChD at the end of it all. The only way we can still be in the running for DF1 2013 is to be qualified when spaces open up. That’s the main aim. I’ve heard one story where a student that didn’t secure a position last year re-applied with a top 100 ranking this year. Same system, same mark scheme, same interviews. There is hope.

So here’s what I’ll be doing to turn this around:

    1)Revise. Get the degree, I can’t see there being 200 unemployed graduate dentists out there next year.

    2)Apply for Feedback from London Deanery. Just in case of reapplication next year. It’ll be useful to know what we did wrong or what is expected of us from this time round. It’ll be £10 and will have to be sent through the post. The application form is here.

    3)Join the DF1 Dentistry Support Group on Facebook, there is a brilliant panel of dentists there to help and support us through this. Having everyone in the same place helps us realise we are not alone.

Above all, don’t give up hope. Chin up, chuck!