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My life as a dentist- After graduation

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My life as a dentist- After graduation

Martin Amsel graduated from University in 1971 and shares what happened next and how young dentists can learn from this.

In December 1971, I qualified with honours from University College Hospital in London. It’s June 2014, I am still practising the profession I love and embarking on a new venture for young dentists. Do you want to know why?

It’s simple; I believe the teaching has changed so radically for young dentists in a way that leaves them inadequately equipped for the real world of patients.
Let’s consider my story along with my comments.

At University we had a quota system in place and in order to even take finals we had to do at least 150 fillings, multiple extractions, general anaesthesia, over 30 crowns and 12 bridges all made by ourselves in the laboratory. Even then I felt then I was totally inexperienced for the real world of dentistry! Compare that to those of you qualifying now and how little practical work you have actually carried out at University undergraduate training.

After I qualified there was no pathway to future training, it was entirely up to each of us individually. That is the one thing that has changed for the better with the introduction of foundation training and compulsory continuous professional development.

I became an associate for six months in my brother in-law’s practice in London. He was a great mentor and dentist to many stars. I learnt so much in those six months and will always be so grateful to him for giving me the enthusiasm that has lasted till now. Being so enthusiastic, I then decided along with two friends from college to start a “London type practice” in the country.

I found premises in Banbury, Oxfordshire where there was a waiting list for NHS dentistry and we set up a squat. We didn’t really know a lot but had friends in the profession who advised and helped. Within one year we had three surgeries running along with a hygienist, a real innovation at that time. I was always interested not only in improving my dental skills but also in the general business of running a practice. I had to learn on the hoof, so I went on many dental and business courses to improve my skills.

My true light bulb moment came when we did a very simple survey of our patients (we did a fully comprehensive one in later years) and asked four questions:
  1. What do you like about our practice?
  2. What don’t you like about our practice?
  3. What can we do to improve our practice for you?
  4. What do you think the role of a hygienist is?
The unexpected answer to question 1 was
“The friendly, smiley helpful staff you have”

Nothing about our dentistry! So here began my induction into running the practice with a total team approach. This was an integration of the staff to all our major decisions, yes we were the leaders with the vision but their opinions were totally taken on board in order to achieve these visions.

We soon became an eight dentists, three hygienist and 25-staff practice, with a mix of 80% NHS patients and 20% private patients. Over the years we developed the team in many ways and rewarded them with lots of social events including taking them to Paris for lunch on our 30th anniversary! Many of them have stayed with us for over 30 years, returning after having time off for children.

My nurse, Sally, has been with me for over 35 years on and off (children and her social life dictating!). Together we have developed a Dynamic Four Handed Training Programme for dentists and nurses, which we have shown both all over the UK and in Eastern Europe. We have made several videos together, which are on YouTube, and continue to run workshops on a regular basis as well as do fantastic team dentistry in the surgery.

About 25 years ago Sally and I started to teach foundation dental students and have continued to do about 15 sessions per year to different groups. By teaching the foundation students for so long I have come to understand their problems and in my opinion lack of practical experience.

So how did I learn my trade? Well I decided to become a course junky and went on every course I felt relevant both in the UK and around the world. I learnt to do both the prosthetic at first and then the surgical side of implant dentistry. I then decided to join one of the Mike Wise study groups in London. This was truly a wonderful experience as well as incredibly hard work but improved my understanding of evidence based dentistry and taught me to question most of what I was being told was gospel by some quite eminent speakers!

It was not all plain sailing

At the age of 29 I had a slipped disk and underwent back surgery, which to this day I regret. I have subsequently had five more operations as once a weak back, always a weak back; Hence my interest in teaching young dentists about good posture. One partner left under a cloud and my remaining partner Peter and I had to endure some real trauma through this, which brought us closer together. I always believe that out of most bad situations a positive can be found with the right mental attitude. Peter and I developed a wonderful partnership with me being the ideas person and he the intelligent one spotting the winners.

Also at this time Kevin Lewis was starting his career as a brilliant lecturer and formed the Insight group in Peterborough to which he invited me to talk about my health experiences. I found I really enjoyed the lecturing experience and Kevin encouraged me to go on and develop my training skills. We often encountered each other lecturing at similar venues and he too has always been very supportive to me as I hope I have been to him.

I became part of the BDA Teamwork programme and was taught by a great empathetic trainer Tim Kemp who gave me so many ideas as to how to obtain the best from delegates in a workshop situation. I subsequently divided my time between practising dentistry, going on courses to learn more, and teaching in a variety of situations varying from small workshops to huge audiences of 500 people.

I had been dividing my time as daytime NHS work and evening private dentistry as I found it difficult to mix the two at first. In 1990, there was yet another new NHS contract, which we felt was good in principle but totally impractical and uneconomic for us. We decided as a practice to go private – no mean undertaking for such a big practice in a country market town. After a lot of planning with the staff we succeeded in our change over a two year period and reduced the size of the practice to six dentists rather than eight. All worries of losing patients did not materialise and we found our patients incredibly loyal to us. We discovered it was all about trust in us and benefits for them. We continued to this day to be innovative and keep up with techniques and about five years ago, Peter and I sold the practice to three of our associates in a management buyout.

My practice partner Peter has recently retired but I would like to continue both working and teaching dentistry. This is where I have come to the conclusion that young dentists need some help in their career pathway before they go on to some higher degree or training.

There are not too many dentists like myself with 42 years of practical experience in the same practice following all the work I have done over the years; although a sobering but wonderful experience. Now I feel is the right time to give back to the profession I love and impart this experience to young dentists.

Speaking to young dentists at courses I have increasingly found they have a lack of confidence in treating patients for many procedures and I really feel for them as they struggle. Obviously some don’t and they are easy to spot when we teach, but they are also the ones with the most interest in what I have to say. Hence the new venture of a Young Dentist Academy, which along with fellow dentists Katharine Cordner and Nazia Alias has been formed. We are there to take young dentists to the next level, give them some confidence in their work and help them on the pathway to a successful career.

May it succeed and blossom for the next generation of dentists

For further information visit

Martyn Amsel


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