How to become a Consultant in... Paediatric Dentistry with Kirsten FitzGerald

A slightly different post in my How to become a Specialist Blog series.... this time it's how to become a Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry with Kirsten FitzGerald.

My role as a consultant paediatric dentist at Ireland’s largest children’s hospital (CHI at Crumlin) is a huge privilege. It’s never boring and no two days are the same. The dental team here cares for some of our country’s most complex children, and we work with colleagues in the other children’s hospitals and in primary care dental clinics to optimise care according to our patients’ needs. I first worked in this hospital over 20 years ago and got bitten by the bug that has steered me towards this role ever since. As a part of my role, I also teach postgraduate students in paediatric dentistry at the Dublin Dental University Hospital and they work under my supervision here in Crumlin too. Over the years I have had the great fortune to work with and look up to some truly fabulous paediatric dentists, and I have had the opportunity to train the next generation of paediatric dentists so that each generation is better than the one that came before. That’s what it’s all about.

Why Paediatrics?

Following a house officer job, a period of time in general practice and in the salaried primary care services, I made the decision to specialise in paediatric dentistry. Adult dentistry was not for me! 

I started my specialty training when I was 4 years out of dental school. Rather than stay close to home, I wanted a new set of experiences and horizons so I decided to undertake training in the US. The training programme in Dallas had an opening and I made a big leap of faith to move there. The programme also made a leap of faith as I was the first international student they had taken. What makes me very proud is that I have managed to maintain a strong connection with the programme there and at the time of writing, 6 young Irish dentists have been able to train there.

When I came back from Texas I undertook a two year Clinical Fellow training post here in Crumlin (akin to the two year post-CCST positions in the UK) and a consultant position came up at the right time for me. I have a joint appointment with the dental school and this helps me keep in touch with the dental world – sometimes teeth are the least of the problems when I am looking after sick children, so it’s nice to see healthy children with dental issues too!

What is a Typical Week like?

A typical week involves all day GA on Mondays, all day clinical teaching on Tuesdays, Wednesday morning GA and afternoon cleft clinic, followed by a more flexible Thursday and Friday where I can book meetings, do admin and see urgent care patients as well as look after inpatients here in the hospital. There is an on-call aspect of my role too, which although a burden, is also rewarding when we get children cared for out of hours when they need it.

The one thing I don’t get to do much of and want to focus more on is research. You can’t do everything, and as I have an enormous clinical responsibility that always takes precedence. But hopefully over the next few years I will be able to carve out some research time. I do remember in my interview that this challenge was pointed out to me and I recall saying I would try to carve out that time, but it’s over 10 years and I haven’t achieved it yet!

Top Tips for applying

My advice to those considering paediatric dentistry is to think about where you would like to end up in terms of the setting – is it private practice, hospital dentistry, community dentistry or academics? Maybe it’s a blend? Be realistic about what is going to be available to you at the end of your training. Find out from those in the know what the future is looking like in your area of interest. 

I know paediatric dentists who really would prefer to work in a salaried role, for example, but the only work available is in private practice, and that is not what makes them happy. I strongly recommend that people have a wide range of experiences before they decide to specialise. There are two main reasons – it helps the young dentist see what they like and don’t like about different work settings, but also it allows them to have insight into the realities of day to day dentistry in all types of settings. We refer patients out to and receive referrals from private practice and to salaried services, so it’s good to have worked in those so you understand the pressures, advantages and limitations.

Everyone seems to have ticked all the boxes now on their CVs, so I often find it hard to pick out the exceptional candidates. That is why having personal contact with prospective trainers/employers is key, in my view. 

Aspiring paediatric dentists should try and put themselves out there by doing poster presentations, offering to work in a supernumerary capacity (without pay) if that is possible, or anything that they can do to make themselves known. Be yourself and relax - your personality and enthusiasm will then speak for itself, and you will find a good fit with the right job or training programme. If it’s not a good fit then it’s not for you.

Although sometimes I find my work is overwhelming in terms of volume, I never ever dislike the actual work I do. The paperwork is a bit more than I bargained for mind you! I just love working as part of a huge team at the hospital where everybody really pushes to get children the care they need. I feel so lucky.

Do you have any questions about Paediatric Dentistry or applying for specialist training? Leave them in the comments below.

You Might Also Like


Top Categories