Education – it’s just a way of life: an interview with Fiona Ellwood
Fiona Ellwood first qualified in 1986. In the subsequent 30 years, she has worked tirelessly to raise the consciousness of the whole profession, and the dental nurse sector in particular, to the importance of learning and personal development and has been instrumental in helping DCPs to reach their full potential. She has developed a successful training business focussing on bespoke training initiatives for dental teams and has also worked to support those providing pre-registration courses and the Oral Health Education Certificate. Fiona’s current role is as CEO of a regional dental business and she is also undertaking an MA in education. She is a trained Mentor and a member of the Mentoring Development Team at FGDP (UK), having received a postgraduate certificate with distinction at level 7. As a true advocate of the role of education as part of personal development, Fiona’s ideals are well aligned with the educational commitment of dentisan. In this interview, dentisan asks Fiona to explain why education should be a way of life and not just a box-ticking exercise.
dentisan: Does the way in which Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is currently organised encourage lifelong learning?
FE: The requirement for dental CPD is aimed at ensuring the maintenance of professional standards within a healthcare setting. But to be truly effective, the desire for continuing professional development must come from the individuals themselves. Training and education should help an individual to become more entrenched in their profession and be second nature – not just a box-ticking exercise to fulfil GDC requirements. Education and life-long learning should be a passion and an ingrained part of what and who you are as a professional.
dentisan: Many commercial companies, including dentisan, offer CPD courses. Are these valuable?
FE: Many commercial organisations make a valuable contribution to CPD, but as dental professionals we need to be certain that all CPD meets the ‘quality’ thresholds as defined by the GDC and that it is relevant to the individual’s scope of practice. If the GDC samples an individual’s CPD portfolio, they will look at its relevance to your professional role and particularly at the ‘reflection’ aspect. A good CPD portfolio that meets the requirements, including the reflection criteria, contributes enormously to an individual’s professional status and their ability to remain on the GDC register. So it is incumbent upon dental professionals to always consider how the CPD they are submitting is helping them on their learning journey and career pathway.
dentisan: You believe that education for the whole team is very important. Why is this?
FE: Since the expansion of the dental nurse’s scope of practice, we can now identify areas in which dental nurses have had to up-skill simply to keep pace with the new materials, techniques and changes in treatments and technology. A perfect example of this is in the sphere of dental implants – implant provision in general practice is growing enormously, and dental nurses are now often exposed to dental implants and require a deeper knowledge of implant procedures and the specific skills required to provide chairside support within this discipline. So dental nurses need to acquire the additional skills which enable them to fulfil this role. This is largely done through practical experience, and it’s my belief that when a dentist learns about implants alongside their dental nurse they learn as a team, which ultimately improves the patient’s experience and outcomes. The dental nurse must be part of the learning if they are to maximise success.
dentisan: Does this ‘team approach’ cause difficulties in teaching at different levels?
FE: Often there is a temptation for educators to assume that dentists learn at one level and dental nurses learn at another – usually perceived as a lower level. I don’t hold this view and prefer to think about people learning in different ways, rather than its being a hierarchical structure. Finding the right learning style that appeals to the audience and engages them is vital. Also, people come to learning at different points in their lives – for some, they are simply not engaged with education during the traditional school years of 5 to 18, but that’s not to say that someone in their mid-twenties, with a little life experience behind them, can’t access education and shouldn’t be offered the same opportunities as others. Quite the reverse, in fact.
dentisan: How can individuals ensure the quality of their CPD?
FE: There are two types of CPD – one being verifiable and the other being non-verifiable. Both currently have to be declared to the GDC. The GDC outlines the criteria for verifiable CPD and one of the core elements is QA (Quality Assurance), making this a vital component when it comes to training, education, maintaining professional standards and clinical competence, however it is an area which is often misunderstood. QA is a process that assures that the education meets specific criteria. It is about the quality of the teaching, the resources and of the educational process and about it being ‘fit for purpose’ for the audience. QA is about standardisation, reproducibility, measuring results and being able to audit the education process and outcomes. In terms of CPD, it is about a provider setting criteria against educational needs and requirements and then confirming that it meets these standards.
One of the temptations when dental companies offer training is that the educational piece can become a by-product of selling. Companies must do all they can to avoid this conflict and make education and learning the main focus, and thankfully many of the courses I come across do this.
dentisan: What is the value of accreditation from third-party organisations?
FE: Accreditation is not the same as Quality Assurance. Accreditation means that a course has met the criteria as laid down by the awarding body, but this on its own does not assure the quality of the course. There are a number of bodies that will ‘accredit’ courses, such as City & Guilds. The principle of accreditation provides a guide and expectation of what is required in order to either complete or pass a course. Having accreditation gives the course more credibility in the market and has the potential to provide participants with recognised transferable skills. It also provides evidence of training and learning and potentially gives participants the edge when applying for jobs. QA, on the other hand, looks closer at the quality of the course and indicates that it meets certain defined standards and processes. COPDEND and BDIA have designed frameworks which set out to determine the essence of quality and quality assurance across CPD and they provide a benchmark. However, I would always encourage those undertaking any sort of training, education or CPD, to seek assurance of the quality framework and mechanisms that are in place before investing either time or money.
dentisan: What should people look for in a quality course?
FE: I would always advise people to investigate what the quality assurance system looks like for a particular course. What is the success rate of the course and what is the expertise of the people who have developed and are delivering the course? What processes do they have in place to assure quality standards are maintained? For example, most courses these days ask for delegate feedback at the end. This is a requirement of CPD and this is fine in so far as it goes, but the real question is, what is the feedback telling those running the course? If the feedback is giving information about the learning and the competence of someone who has acquired new skills and understanding, or indicates where there were barriers to learning then the feedback can be of value, if it is acted upon. If the feedback is about the quality of the venue and refreshments, the information might be useful for the organiser, but it is not an indication of ‘quality’ in learning or of the quality of the course/CPD activity.
If we take dentisan’s one-day infection control and decontamination course as an example. This course has filled an important void in the market by providing training for both registered dental professionals and for decontamination assistants, who are not GDC registrants and whose role is to undertake the decontamination process of reusable dental instruments and equipment. This course has accreditation from City & Guilds, but it is also aligned to a Quality Assurance framework, given the academic backgrounds, knowledge and expertise of the team who built the course and deliver it. In addition, it has internal and external moderation and assessment processes, and a team that remains current within the given field and those on the QA panel. This QA process has enabled the course to be assessed by Health Education England (East Midlands Region) as being ‘Enhanced Other Approved’ in reference to COPDEND’s criteria.
dentisan: Do you have your own criteria for what constitutes ‘quality’?
FE: The starting point when choosing any course or CPD activity should be to go to the GDC standards for education or the requirements for CPD and ensure that it meets the criteria or framework. My personal criteria for choosing a quality course are based on the following:
• Past success?
• QA processes?
• The tutor – what are their qualifications/skill-sets and expertise?
• How current is the tutors’ CPD?
• How long has the course been running?
• How often is the content updated?
• What support mechanisms are in place away from the learning environment?
• Cost should be the least important factor.