'The UK offers fantastic opportunities for career progression, but you need to work hard'
Working Abroad Q&A: Claire Curtin, consultant in special care dentistry in Cardiff
Claire Curtin is originally from Tralee, Co Kerry and now lives in Cardiff with her husband Simon Stokes and daughter Saoirse Stokes, who is 11 months old. She is a consultant in Special Care Dentistry
When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?
I left Ireland in 2011 with my now husband, who is also a dentist. The cutbacks to the State-funded dental schemes during the recession meant that work in general dental practice in Ireland was limited. As a result, we felt it would be a good time to move to the UK for a while to broaden our clinical experience and do some postgraduate study. I had worked in Edinburgh for three years already between 2007 and 2010, so moving back was relatively seamless.
Did you study in Ireland?
I studied Dentistry in UCC and graduated in 2007. Like many others in my class, I moved to Edinburgh after graduating as they had a shortage of dentists at the time and had set up specific incentives to attract graduates from Ireland. I stayed in Edinburgh until 2010 when I moved back to Ireland.
Tell us about your career as a dentist in Wales.
After moving to Wales, I completed several years as a senior house officer in Cardiff Dental Hospital and then did a three-year specialist training post in special care dentistry. I finished that in 2017 and have worked as a consultant in special care dentistry in the Community Dental Service since then.
What does your day-to-day work involve?
Special care dentistry is concerned with dental care of patients who are unable to access care in general dental practice for a variety of reasons. They may have a learning or physical disability, significant mental health problems, medical compromise, frailty or advanced dementia.
Due to the nature of the patients I see, my days at work are quite varied and in a typical week I will see patients in the surgery, but I will also have some patients that need to be seen on domiciliary visits to their home or a care home. My patients are referred to our service from their general dentist, GP or other health professionals and depending on their need, treatment can be carried out using local anaesthetic, sedation or general anaesthetic. Work outside of clinics is also very busy as I’m involved with teaching the current specialist trainees in Wales, I examine for the Royal College of Surgeons and I am chair of the National Implementation Group for ‘Gwên am Byth’ - a Welsh Government programme to improve the oral health of older adults in care homes in Wales.
Is the system for dental care different?
There are significant differences between the Irish and the Welsh dental systems. Most people in Wales are registered with an NHS dentist who provides a broad range of dental treatment at a cost set by the government. If a referral to a specialist or consultant is required, there are clear referral pathways in place and the patient will usually not be charged for the treatment they receive. However, the NHS is quite stretched and waiting lists for specialist treatment can often be quite long.
What challenges are there in your work?
The patients that I see have significant barriers to accessing dental care for example they may have advanced dementia or complex medical conditions. Providing dental care for them often requires lateral thinking and consultation with their families and other healthcare professionals to ensure they receive the most appropriate care in the best location for them. Although often challenging, it is deeply rewarding when the treatment is completed successfully, and the patient is happy.
If you wanted to come and work in Ireland what are the opportunities like in dentistry?
Because the specialty I work in is quite small in Ireland at the moment, opportunities are more limited. Special care dentistry was only founded as a specialty in the UK in 2008 and it has grown significantly since then in response to the needs of the aging population and the fact that people are living longer with very complex medical conditions. There is a cohort of special care dentists in Ireland who very passionate about the specialty, the work they do and the patients they treat so hopefully this number will expand in Ireland in the future.
Some 52.5 per cent of those who voted in the Brexit referendum in Wales, voted to Leave the EU. How is living there for an Irish person?
Although Wales as a whole voted to Leave the EU, Cardiff as a city voted to Remain. Brexit is obviously in the news a lot, however I have found that is very rarely discussed between people day to day. I haven’t been treated any differently since the vote, although I think a lot of people don’t actually realise that Brexit will affect Irish people in the UK as they don’t view us as EU emigrants specifically.
Is Cardiff a good destination for Irish people?
Absolutely - Cardiff city is expanding rapidly and career opportunities are good. The city itself has a modern city centre, a reasonable cost of living and lots of green spaces. It’s also only a short 40-minute flight to Cork or Dublin.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in healthcare in the UK?
The UK offers fantastic opportunities for career progression, but it is very competitive. You need to work hard, try to have skills or qualifications that help you stand out from the crowd and don’t overlook the importance of having excellent interview skills.
If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about you and what you do.