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Dental associates' perceptions of their working environment: a qualitative study

Abstract

Background The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of dental associates and how these relate to their working environment.

Methods Qualitative methodology was used. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 associates in the UK in early 2018. Participants were asked about their working experiences, professional autonomy and the improvements they thought could be made to their working environment. Interview transcripts were analysed using deductive thematic analysis.

Results Three key themes were identified: 1) 'conditions', how associates view their working environment; 2) 'drivers', what associates believe drives their working conditions; 3) 'effects', how associates are affected by their working environment. There were differences between the working environments of associates working in corporate practice and those in independent practice. They relate primarily to decision-making and finances. While most associates enjoyed their job, a common factor that negatively affected associates was governance including the current NHS contract and actions of the General Dental Council.

Discussion The results of this study indicate that associates and the profession face a variety of issues today. The effects this has on associates could contribute to the changes that are being seen in the profession and are explored using social psychology theories.

Conclusion The findings of the study complement work demonstrating corporate associates to have lower levels of autonomy than their non-corporate peers and highlights that drivers vary between sectors. Social psychology theories indicate that the working environment could be affecting change in the profession.

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Acknowledgements

EO would like to thank the BDA Trust Fund and the Shirley Glasstone Hughes Trust Fund for funding this project and those who participated.

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Correspondence to Ellena O’Selmo.

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O’Selmo, E., Collin, V. & Whitehead, P. Dental associates' perceptions of their working environment: a qualitative study. Br Dent J 226, 955–962 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-019-0258-y

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