Dental nurse Haydn Stockley talks about his illness and how he has overcome the challenges it brought to supercharge a career within dentistry

Dental nurse Haydn Stockley is about to embark on a new stage of his career in dentistry, studying dental hygiene at Portsmouth University. He has battled illness from a young age but his passion for the profession and his determination to overcome the related challenges have won through. Here, Haydn shares his challenging pathway...

All about me

During secondary school, I missed almost four years after being diagnosed with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) I managed to take five GCSEs and achieved two. I remember talking to a teacher about careers before I took my exams,mentioning I had a keen interest in dentistry. I was laughed at and told I was being unrealistic. The lack of guidance after leaving school completely knocked my confidence but I never gave up.

Three years ago, I attempted to find a career within dentistry and was offered a job as a trainee dental nurse at Ringwood Dental in Hampshire. Since then, I have taken GCSEs/A-levels from home, qualified as a dental nurse and completed additional qualifications. I needed to get into dental school and set about applying to multiple universities to study dental hygiene or dental therapy.

Knowing how competitive it is, I told myself I would never give up applying, no matter how long it took me.

During lockdown, I was lucky enough to receive all my university offers first year-round, which was a total shock. As well as this, I achieved all my current studies and I’ve never been prouder of myself. The moral is never let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve something and, if they do, prove them wrong.

What is ME and what are its symptoms?

ME stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis. My symptoms were extreme fatigue during physical and mental activity. This caused exhaustion and, although completely wiped out, I was unable to sleep. My whole body hurt and I suffered severe muscle pains.I also experienced neurological disturbances, such as dizziness and problems with concentration and retaining information. My eyes were very sensitive to light, too.

The hardest thing with ME is the unpredictable energy levels. There would be small windows of feeling slightly better but any small activity, walking, talking or listening would result in sudden exhaustion and put me back again.

This affected my learning, social life and even my home life. I was always so motivated and wanting to do well, but it was a huge barrier preventing me from achieving anything.

How do you overcome the challenges you face with the illness?

I have learnt how to manage the illness by pacing activities and taking rest periods.

I know not to overdo things as this exacerbates the condition. I maintain a social life online and have friends visit for short periods. I’m never quitting and I’m keeping positive.

Do you get support for ME?

When I was a lot younger, I had a lot of support through the hospital but, since I left secondary school, it was all self-management from home. I can only describe having ME to be like ‘having my plug pulled out’. I learnt from this to save up energy and pace myself carefully and to know exactly how much I could do before having to pay the price of spending days in bed recovering.

What impact did the teacher’s reaction to your ambitions have on you at the time?

At the time, it knocked my confidence and I listened, believing I wasn’t being realistic. I was made to feel I wasn’t good enough. I focused on a different career plan (accountancy) for a while, which I really didn’t want to do but felt like it was my only option at that time. I was disappointed but, three years ago, the desire and passion I still felt for dentistry made me more determined than ever to prove the comments wrong.

How important is it to have support from family, friends and colleagues?

Incredibly important, as it’s such an unpredictable and misunderstood illness. You can look well but feel awful. It’s not a normal tiredness whereby you can rest and recharge.Friends and family living alongside ME have a much better understanding of the illness and are able to support you fully.

What additional qualifications do you have as a dental nurse?

  • Biology A-level
  • BDA dental radiography
  • Access to higher education diploma in science.

Why dentistry?

I became interested in dentistry when I was 16 and my cousins were training as dental nurses. Having them both live with me, I was often there for their study sessions. I became interested in what they were learning and, in particular, was fascinated with the number of nerves in the face and the number system given to the teeth – it was like some secret code.

My cousin, seeing my keen interest, suggested I spent a day’s work experience at her practice to see what was involved in dental nursing. I spent the day observing the clinicians and was totally absorbed with the interaction between the clinician and patient.

It was evident the positive communication and detailed advice given noticeably reduced the fear in the patient and built their trust. My day was a truly remarkable experience. I left feeling excited and motivated to pursue a career within dentistry, confident this was the right path for me.

What do you enjoy about dental nursing?

I love the social side of my job. I really enjoy patient interaction and building rapport and relationships with them. I like taking medical histories, learning different medical conditions and how the different medications can help.

I enjoy delivering effective advice learnt from my studies and experience to help patients, such as post-op XLA instructions or educating patients regarding oral hygiene advice.

My ability to take radiographs, such as cephalometric, OPG, bitewings and periapical, has brought me closer to the patients and allowed me to be more hands-on in their care.

What are the challenges within dentistry?

Obviously, delivering dentistry has been hampered by COVID-19 – the limitations of teledentistry, limited face-to-face appointments, the current PPE regulations during AGPs and, on a more personal level, time management. I’s difficult studying while working but ever so rewarding.

Has the team at Ringwood Dental been supportive?

Everyone at Ringwood Dental has been like family and we have all become a very close group – from helping me pass my dental nursing all the way through applying to university, they have all been so supportive and encouraging.

What attracted you to this the course at the University of Portsmouth (UoP)?

From receiving all offers for dental hygiene/therapy at the various universities, there was no question in my mind about choosing Portsmouth. Portsmouth is one of the only universities in the UK to offer Dental Hygiene as a BSc. I have really enjoyed my time working closely with the hygienist and our periodontal specialist, which has further increased my passion in this field. BSc dental hygiene offers a much more in-depth and understanding of periodontal disease and different techniques to treat and prevent it. This is something I’m keen to progress in and focus on to help patients in the future.

I thought that UoP dental facilities were outstanding. On the open day, I enjoyed the tour around the phantom head room as well as seeing both dental wings where patients are treated. The dental school has its own student break room – we’re not allowed to go outside in
our scrubs but in these student facilities we don’t have to take our scrubs off making life a lot easier.

I liked that Portsmouth dental school teaches all different types of dental students: from dental nurses, hygienist/therapists and final year King’s College dental students. On clinic, students get the chance to work together in their role allowing us to have a holistic approach of dentistry once we qualify.

I liked that Portsmouth University encourage students to be proactive and to get involved with all the activities the societies have to offer. It seemed like a great way to meet new people and make the university experience the best it can be.

Any tips for those dental nurses considering the same career pathway?

Start your personal statement early and don’t leave it until the last minute. This gives you plenty of time to research your course. Research is key if you want to stand out! It also gives you time to show friends/family for opinions and not miss the UCAS deadline.

Volunteering is a great way to gain experience before university. I contacted some care homes whose residents often suffer with poor dexterity after noticing this problem in surgery. A couple of them invited me to conduct a presentation to their nurses on dental issues faced by an ageing population. This was something I was able to add to my personal statement as well as speaking about at my interviews.

Visit as many university open days as you can. It’s not only a great way to find your favourite place to study and live, but also helps to know all your options. At all of my interviews they asked why I chose this specific university and, from attending the open days, I had answers as I had explored the areas. You can also find out what each university expects of you as a student, which can help develop your personal statement. Know the scope of practice for dental hygiene/therapy. This is a question that will most definitely be asked. Research NHS constitutions and GDC standards and have examples where you have used these in practice or just in your everyday life.

What are your ambitions once you qualify?

I am going to continue travelling and volunteer in countries where oral health is neglected; especially for children. I love working with children. One day, I would like to consider dental therapy when I have some experience as a qualified hygienist.

How do you switch off?

In my spare time, I really enjoy kayaking and I’m currently learning to sail. During my time off work, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to different places around the world and I constantly think about where I’ll be going next with my friends. I also enjoy being part of football team and playing in a local league with a work friend. Although, I have missed this very much as games have been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic but I look forward to it restarting again soon.

What would you say to anyone else whose confidence has been knocked?

There are plenty of people who will really put you down and knock your confidence, but the most important thing is to believe in yourself, never give up and follow your heart.

If you want to do something badly enough, you can make it happen with sheer determination, focus and hard work. The opportunities are there.

Haydn is on Instagram as haydn_dental