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Taking forward leadership development for dentists

18 July 2013

Taking forward leadership development for dentists

Thames Valley, Wessex and South West Deaneries Local Professional Network Dental Leadership Development Programme - reviewed by Helen Falcon

An exciting and innovative programme for developing leadership behaviours in dentists is described. The programme took place over six days between December 2012 and April 2013, and sixteen dentists took part representing a wide range of dentistry, including general practice, salaried practice and secondary care. The programme was designed to build leadership skills by a greater understanding of individual leadership styles, exploring new ways of motivating others, including patients and growing emotional intelligence. The ultimate aim was to develop a deeper understanding of today’s demanding clinical and political environment. The feedback from participants showed a high degree of satisfaction with the programme and a thirst to continue their networking and development; this article describes the programme.

Clinical leadership continues to be a hot topic and the new NHS structures bring opportunities for dentists to stretch their leadership abilities.  Leadership is about being personally successful, and enabling success in others; the two go hand in hand and one without the other is hollow. Leadership is required at personal, team, and practice levels, and in wider society. Leaders encourage innovation and accountability in their people, create cultural change, and develop the next generation of leaders. 

Encouraging and supporting good leadership skills is the key to the success of the profession in today’s challenging environment and clinical leadership is vital for strategic direction, successful teams and engaged staff. Ultimately this improves patient care and benefits the whole community. Dental professionals have a tremendous amount to give and their contribution to commissioning appropriate services to the population is invaluable. They are a resource that the NHS needs and they are eager to be involved. This programme has provided skills and tools to help make that happen.

In autumn 2012 the Postgraduate Dental Deans of Oxford and Wessex and South West worked together to plan and commission a new programme to support dentists who either were engaging with Local Professional Networks (LPNs) or who wanted to do so in the future.  The dental leadership development programme was the result of their forward thinking.

This is an innovative, intensive six-month programme designed to equip dentists with the basic knowledge and skills to effectively contribute to the commissioning, delivery, monitoring and improvement of dental services, oral health and patient outcomes across primary and secondary care. 

A three-day taught programme was devised followed by three facilitated action learning sets at monthly intervals over six months in total.  A blended learning approach has been used to include tutor support, self-directed learning, simulation scenarios, multi-source feedback and case studies.

A total of 18 clinicians applied to take part, unfortunately two had to withdraw close to the first day. Sixteen clinicians successfully completed the programme. It was a requirement of the programme that participants attended all three initial days. The subsequent action learning sets have been designed to address individual learning needs and the emerging LPN agenda. Guided simulated scenarios have been used alongside tutor input. There was no charge to delegates to attend the programme. The Local Dental Committee in Hampshire and Isle of Wight was very supportive of the programme and also supported attendees.

The programme accessed a wide range of speakers including national and local experts from commissioning organisations, academic bodies, and the department of health, facilitated by Dr. Janine Brooks MBE. Experts from outside the world of dentistry offered a unique and thought provoking dimension to stretch the thinking of participants. Guest speakers included Barry Cockcroft CBE, Chief Dental Officer (England), Susie Sanderson OBE, former BDA Executive committee chair, Helen Caton-Brown, Forton Group, Colette Bridgeman MBE, Consultant in Dental Public Health, Sue Gregory OBE now Director of Dental for Public Health Public Health England and Stephen Jones, Interim Regional Director of Commissioning (South)NHS England. All speakers received excellent feedback from the participants who enjoyed the opportunity to discuss aspects of dental provision and learn more about the new NHS and healthcare landscape.

Together the speakers delivered a wide and far-ranging programme to include LPN basics, needs assessment, data interpretation, project management, political skills, negotiation, influencing strategies, financial management, horizon scanning and dynamic speaking.  It has included several self-assessment tools to help delegates understand themselves and their strengths and weaknesses better.  In addition a 360 influencing skills exercise has been made available to delegates, with analysis and feedback provided.

The overall evaluation from delegates has been excellent:

“Discussion provoked by presentations which was varied and wide ranging”

“Liked the pace of the course, variety of speakers and the interaction”

“Relaxed atmosphere, people willing to contribute, good networking”

“Informative and thought provoking”

“The honesty of the speakers”

“It was a new way of looking at dentistry”

As a direct result of this programme, a follow up action learning day will be arranged six months after the conclusion of the programme to review the development of LPNs and continue the development of delegates.  In addition, a taster day was arranged for Northern Deanery and they are considering a programme similar to this one.


Helen qualified in 1977 and worked in general practice and the Salaried Dental Service in Hertfordshire, Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire for 25 years before specialising in dental public health.

She was appointed Director of Postgraduate Dental Education in the Oxford Deanery in January 2005 and as Postgraduate Dental Dean to NHS Education South Central (Oxford and Wessex Deaneries) in 2007.

She is an appointed member of the General Dental Council, Chair of the UK Committee of Postgraduate Dental Deans (COPDEND) and Immediate Past President of the National Association of Prison Dentistry UK.

Research interests include dental education and the development of NHS dental services.

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