How has COVID-19 affected Postgraduate Dental Training Recruitment?

So amongst everything else, COVID-19 has had a huge impact on how we recruit to postgraduate training posts such as DFT, DCT and specialist training over the past 18 months...

Over the past 7 years, we have gotten used to processes for appointing to postgraduate dental training posts becoming nationalised and more standardised. But for all the processes in dentistry prior to the pandemic, there was always at least one element of the assessment that was face to face. But with the stay at home order last March, this threw a huge spanner in the works about how to approach recruiting to programmes such as Dental Core and Specialist training. 

Adaptations were made in difficult circumstances. I was able to contribute to how adaptations were made as I was invited to sit on the Medical and Dental Recruitment Selection Subgroup because of my committee role within the BDA Young Dentists Committee. These meetings gave me an insight into the difficulties of trying to ensure that recruitment processes still went ahead, were as fair as possible, were able to make reasonable adjustments to candidates who needed it and all this within a very tight time frame! Since the first round of recruitments, feedback has enabled the group to make adaptations and changes; all the while having to balance the risk of further lock downs, surges in infections and redeployment of both applicants and assessors. 

I don't think that any recruitment process will ever be 100% perfect and there will always be some candidates who might prefer previous styles of recruitment; but looking at the whole picture of what our current situation is, I would like to reassure anyone who has gone through a recruitment round during COVID-19 that the team have made a sterling effort to ensure fairness and transparency in the light of an ever evolving environment.

So how have things changed...?

Dental Foundation Training

The last 'normal' round of DFT recruitment was in 2019 where the process had 3 elements: SJT at a Pearson Vue Centre and then 2 face to face interviews of Professionalism, Leadership and Management, and Communication. 

Although COVID-19 numbers were lower in the summertime of 2020, it was still deemed too high risk to continue with this form of assessment as it would be difficult to implement social distancing across the assessment sites, factor in for sickness, isolation and shielding candidates. So the process of DFT recruitment has been SJT assessment only. 

Of course there has been further disruption with the prospect of some students not being able to graduate from university and those in Scotland having their training extended. Preferencing posts was therefore pushed back to summer 2021 and instead of preferencing schemes, candidates have been asked to preference individual practices in anticipation of there being 2 start dates for DFT in 2021/22 to allow for those who need extended training prior to graduation. 

The plans for 2021/22 recruitment process have recently been confirmed to be a score for recruitment based on:
  1. SJT taken at a Pearson Vue centre (75%)
  2. Online Teams Communication interview (25%)

Dental Core Training

My heart goes out to anyone who was expecting DCT recruitment last year as normal when BANG the pandemic hit, interview dates were cancelled and everyone was in a state of flux while new plans were being worked out. 

In the end, similar to DFT recruitment, an assessment purely based on SJT was decided upon, but the most recent recruitment this year was as follows:
  1. SJT taken at a Pearson Vue centre (33.3% of marks)
  2. Online Teams interview, with Clinical station (33.3% of marks) and a Clinical Governance station (33.3% of marks)

Specialist Training

Specialist training recruitment has always been a bit more complicated as although there are fewer numbers of applicants to deal with, every dental speciality has a slightly different process. For example, when I went through Special Care recruitment, we had a practical assessment on phantom heads, then a second day of interviews with 4 stations. All of this as you can see was face to face! 

2020's recruitment was decided to be on self-assessment only, asking candidates to fill in elements that usually crop up in portfolio stations such as presentations, posters, publications, experience, number of procedures etc. There was also 'white-space' questions in some applications that was used where there were ties between candidates. 

2021 saw a similar process to shortlist candidates, but there were also elements of online interviews which were slightly different depending on specialities - some asking for presentations, pre-submission of evidence to talk through, or some based on clinical scenarios or clinical governance. 

Academic Clinical Fellow posts also had their assessments this year online, with online interviews on top of having to benchmark through the national recruitment processes of the relevant training grade as stated above. 

To find out more information about current recruitment processes, please refer to the COPDEND website.

What about the future?

As proved over the past 18 months, it seems that we are not particularly good at predicting what's going to happen in the future! 

Chatting to some young dentists, there is an opinion that we should return to previous assessment styles as soon as we can. However, there are some advantages to keeping some of the elements of how assessments are done now. It introduces more flexibility for candidates, organisers and interviewers as it cuts out travel to venues and can be easier to accommodate into working days. SJTs also have a good evidence base, especially in medicine, as a fair way to assess candidates; however, it is a method that results in difficulty distinguishing between candidates above a certain level, so an additional method of assessment (such as an online or face to face interview) can help especially if there are a large number of candidates being assessed. 

What we can say is that current recruitment methods are being evaluated to feed into decision making for future recruitment, and this includes listening to feedback of people who have been through the process! This is raised through our BDA Young Dentist Committee where we are able to feedback to the relevant bodies, so if you have any specific feedback you want raised, let your local YDC rep know or leave a comment below and I would be happy to raise this for you. 

Do you have any thoughts about recruitment during COVID-19? Please leave them in the comments below

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