Hayley O’Neill reveals how she plugged a gap in the market with a fun learning pack for trainee dental nurses and their mentors

Dental nurse Hayley O'Neill has worked in private practice for 10 years. As @thehappydentalnurse on Instagram, she is offering trainee dental nurses and their mentors a wealth of resources to help guide them through the learning process.

Here, she outlines her inspiration and why she believes the future of dental nursing lies in your ability to adapt...

I like clinical environments. I used to work in a laser eye clinic and before that in a veterinary clinic. I applied for a trainee dental nurse position when it became available in my local town.

It is important to be able to multitask, but mostly in your head! You need to be able to focus on the patient in the chair but also know what time the autoclave is going to beep and who the next three patients are. It is also important to be very organised, but this can be learned through repetition if it doesn’t come naturally. A dental nurse should be a good communicator between colleagues and the patients and a team player.

Our days can vary enormously. It is rewarding to support and comfort a terrified patient through a series of appointments and finally see them walk confidently up to the surgery having overcome their fear. But we can all have ‘one of those days’ – an extraordinarily busy one with complex treatments and the challenges of keeping on time. But you have to roll with it.

My most important professional achievement to date is training trainees. It’s important because it’s a new career for them and you can pass on all your knowledge. We make all the difference. We keep everything functioning and can do so many different tasks. A dental team simply couldn’t manage without us.

I’d like to think dental nurses will get the recognition they deserve one day. We have shown so much adaptability as a profession, especially through this current crisis with many dental nurses being redeployed. We have so much knowledge we deserve better pay as a profession and I hope that will be the future.

Start the day good! Get in 10 minutes earlier than you need so you aren’t rushing or stressed. You need to check your day list first thing and make sure you know what you will need that day. Keep well stocked at all times.

As a trainee, always be keen to learn – in fact, this learning will never end! Take notes and ask questions. Try your best but be patient with yourself, too – you will get there. Don’t be scared of the patients – it sounds silly but, if you make an effort to get to know them, it will make them feel more confident and you will sense this and relax, too.

I have trained a few trainees over the years and have found it can be quite a big task, especially the first time. It’s quite scary because you are not sure where to start. You have all the knowledge in your head but don’t know what to do on their first day, second day and so on. You also have your other jobs to be getting on with and this gets harder with a trainee on your tail. On the other side, the trainee dental nurse can feel quite overwhelmed. I remember being a trainee myself and it can feel very daunting to be surrounded by unfamiliar things in a clinical environment. The pressure can get a bit too much and some trainees even give up in their first few weeks.

I created The Happy Trainee pack as a guide for both the trainee and their mentor (often a qualified dental nurse) to help keep on top of training in the first few weeks and months. It covers the induction day, what to do in the first couple of days, how to shadow effectively and much more. There is a handy log to monitor the treatments you have performed, feedback opportunities and definitions and abbreviations. Often the trainees will have come from school or environments completely different to dentistry, so I’ve kept the guide light-hearted and fun because the jargon will come later. It doesn’t step on the toes of anything they will learn on their course, but it will give them a good start so they feel prepared as the necessary content is still there. It is a PDF pack so it just gets transferred directly to the practice and they can then print it as often as they like. It offers guidance for both the trainee and the mentor, but this benefits the wider team because if they are less stressed, the practice environment is more comfortable for everyone.

I am promoting it on dental nursing forums on Facebook and on my Instagram page. It covers the induction day, day one tasks, how to shadow effectively, qualities of a dental nurse, descriptions of treatment set ups and more. I think I have covered everything I can, without going into too much detail, which they will learn on their course. I don’t want it to be repetitive.

I trialled something very similar with two past trainees at my practice, but this is the first time I’ve put it together in a professional way. However, I sent it to a trainee, and 10 qualified dental nurses for proof reading and feedback before completing it and had great feedback. Since releasing it, many people have purchased it and I’ve had some lovely reviews which feels great. It’s early days of course, but I’m incredibly happy with how it has been received!

I don’t believe there is anything else like it. There is a gap of at least a few months between when you start as a trainee and when you begin your course and it’s this gap where this pack comes in. I think all practices should have a guide like this to present to their trainee on their first day. They can keep it on them at all times and it will give them more confidence.

Social media – and Instagram in particular – is important for both patient education and networking with colleague! There is a lot of confusion at the moment in terms of how to move forward safely and a lot of information out there is getting interpreted differently. The forums and Instagram help us all to connect and discuss these issues, share ideas and information. I have found it very useful.