Michelle Brand tells Caroline Holland why being a locum dental nurse could be the future.

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How long have you been a dental nurse, and why?

I have been a dental nurse on and off for 30 years, and I love it. My first foray into dental nursing was in my teens. My Dad had died when I was 15 - this was a very traumatic time and I was undecided about what I wanted to do for a career. I knew I needed to earn some money and become independent, so I joined a large dental practice in Manchester city centre as a trainee dental nurse. I was extremely well supported by my first employer, Dr Peter Kurer, and his training and encouragement made all the difference. When he retired, I went back to university and did a BSc in Product Design and Development and an MA in Bioclimatic Design. I have always had two strings to my bow.

Why did you become a locum?

It started quite unexpectedly. I was building my design business and a hygienist friend of mine was working at a practice which needed some cover. She called me… and the rest is history!

Fortunately, I had kept my GDC registration. That's something I would recommend all dental nurses do, even if you think you don't want to nurse anymore. Don't burn your bridges: it gives you choice. Also, it saves on the bother of having to undergo the training and sitting the exam again. As a locum you can set your terms and choose where you go and when. You can work in the practices which meet high ethical standards.

Dental nursing has historically been poorly paid; personally, I feel this is because the majority of us are women and many are young women. The progress in clinical dentistry is breathtaking but the pay scale for dental nurses is back in the age of steam.

The only way I could get the hourly rate I needed was to become a locum and sadly that meant giving up a regular, secure practice job. It's a shame it came to that choice.

What are the benefits of being a locum?

Locuminggives me flexibility and autonomy. I now work in 12 different practices. I like having my regular client dentists and I feel appreciated. I am registered self-employed and I must fund my own pension, cover my own sick pay, pay my own NI contributions and find my own work. It's more difficult to be self-employed if you have dependants.

Is it difficult to be accepted as a team member when you work as a locum?

No, not for me; my attitude is that I'm here to help and many of the practices are very grateful. The main thing is not to act like a locum; you need to act like a team member: arrive promptly and treat the surgery as if it were your own. Leave it tidy and clean and empty the clinical waste. Often, you'll have to organise more stock if a practice has had a member down for more than one day.

Tell me a bit more about your dental career.

In addition to working in a dental practice, I have worked at Manchester Dental Hospital and spent time as an international dental technical demonstrator and a sales rep.

I am a member of the Executive Committee of the British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) and also on its Pride in Practice1 board of representatives. As BADN's Lead on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), I will be setting up and chairing an EDI Working Group and working on a variety of projects.

Why did you join BADN?

Partly because I was looking for a sense of community with colleagues and partly because there needs to be some systemic changes to improve dental nursing as a career. We work with our hands and our brain and dental nurses should have more recognition and a fee scale. There needs to be greater transparency around pay and conditions. Sometimes, it's discovered that a newly employed dental nurse is paid more than the loyal and experienced team members who have been at the practice for many years. It's not right. BADN, as the professional association for dental nurses in the UK, is constantly campaigning and lobbying for change as well as supporting both dental nurses and the dental nursing profession. Membership of BADN gives me access to legal advice, health and wellness advice, free CPD in the Journal, special rate indemnity and lots of discounts and special offers, as well as information and advice and the opportunity to network with other dental nurses!

The other reason I joined BADN was to have a voice: if you want to change something you have to be part of it.

And outside of dentistry?

When I am not working as a dental nurse, I develop my sustainable design agency. My particular interest is in sustainable waste management. I particularly like working with children and have run workshops in schools and galleries. I have been awarded several grants to develop my work as well as awards. Prior to the pandemic, I ran my agency at the same time as working as a dental nurse and was awarded Arts Council funding to exhibit my work in London and Hong Kong.