Leading by example

22 February, 2012 / Infocus

By succeeding “probably the most successful postgraduate dental dean in the whole of the UK,” Dr David Felix acknowledges he has a pretty difficult act to follow.

However, the newly-appointed dean for postgraduate dental education at NHS Education for Scotland (NES) will be able to draw on nearly a decade’s worth of experience as associate dean alongside his predecessor, Dr Jim Rennie. “He was a good role model and I enjoyed a very good relationship with him. And I’m not just saying that because he was my boss!” he said.

In fact, Dr Felix’s connection with Dr Rennie actually goes back even further to his student days at Glasgow Dental School. He said: “I’ve known him for a long time – he taught me as a dental student when he was a lecturer in oral pathology – so I have known him from the time I was an undergraduate.

“In my postgraduate roles, I picked up quite a lot from him in terms of how to manage difficult situations, so it has put me in good stead.”

Dr Felix graduated from Glasgow Dental School in 1978 and, after completing a number of training grade posts in Glasgow, Salford and Ipswich, he decided to go back to medical school from 1983 to 1988. After carrying out his pre-registration house officer posts at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, he received an MRC (Medical Research Council) training fellowship and then undertook higher training in oral medicine in Edinburgh.

He became a consultant at Glasgow Dental Hospital in 1992, and in 1995, he was appointed as the hospital dental services tutor for the west of Scotland, with responsibility for all the dental trainees within the hospital system in the region.

During this time, he also became a council member of the British Society of Oral Medicine, moving on to the position of secretary between 1994 and 2002 and then president from 2003 until 2005.

In 1996, Dr Felix was awarded the Fellowship in Dental Surgery (FDS) of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow without examination and in 1997, the FDS from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), again without examination.

Dr Felix has also played a prominent role in the dental faculty at the RCSEd, serving as secretary from 1999 to 2005 and then dean of the faculty from 2008 until September 2011. He was a member of the Specialist Advisory Committee (SAC) for the Additional Dental Specialties from 1999 until 2010, serving as chairman (2007-2010) at a time when the GDC had tasked the SACs with the development of specialty curricula.

When NES established an associate dean post with a national role in 2001, Dr Felix applied and was appointed following interview, holding the post until February last year when he was appointed acting dean after Dr Rennie’s retirement. He officially took up the post in April 2011 and late last year the post was made substantive.

Dr Felix acknowledges that his predecessor played a big part in the development of dentistry in Scotland in recent years. He said: “Jim was probably the most successful postgraduate dental dean in the whole of the UK. So, from that point of view, he is an incredibly difficult, almost impossible, act to follow.

“Through Jim’s efforts and his interactions with a number of chief dental officers in Scotland, dentistry acquired a substantial uplift in funding, particularly as a result of the Dental Action Plan.”

As a result of this funding, there have been a number of innovative projects within dentistry in Scotland such as the development of the dental outreach centres across the country – 17 at the last count.

“Dental students now get exposure to working in an environment that more closely resembles primary dental care, where the majority of dental students will end up spending their careers,” said Dr Felix.

Dr Felix also highlights the fact that Scotland is the only country in the UK to have introduced formal satisfactory completion of vocational training. He said: “Previously, to complete vocational training, someone had to work for one year in a recognised general dental practice under the supervision of a recognised trainer and attend 30 study days.

“Now we have formal satisfactory completion, which is underpinned by robust workplace-based assessments and is peer reviewed. This should inevitably give greater confidence to the public that anybody coming out of vocational training is appropriately trained.”

As for his own style, Dr Felix insists it will be a case of carrying on all the good work initiated by Dr Rennie, albeit in more trying economic times. He said: “The current financial climate will be a challenge, but from that point of view, we are, in comparison with other postgraduate deaneries south of the border, still well funded. So that does make things a lot easier.

“Postgraduate deaneries south of the border still have aspirations of achieving some of the things that are happening in Scotland. But I think they are looking at a very challenging funding envelope and that is not so much the case in Scotland.”

As a member of COPDEND (Committee of Postgraduate Dental Deans and Directors), Dr Felix meets up with colleagues from across the UK four times a year to share good practice and develop common policies. However, he does acknowledge that the differing health systems can present certain challenges.

He said: “In some areas, it is quite difficult to have common policies simply because of the different health systems. But I think it is important to maintain contact with the deans south of the border.

“Sometimes you will pick up some areas of good practice that are worthwhile bringing up to Scotland, but in other areas, particularly with vocational training, we are so far ahead of England.”

When asked if the deaneries south of the border are quite envious of their colleagues in Scotland, he said: “Not just quite envious – very envious at times, I would say. They probably look at the amount of funding we have had and wonder ’How on earth did you manage to get that?’.”

In a previous interview with Scottish Dental magazine (Aug/Sept 2011, p30), Dr Felix’s predecessor as dean of the Dental Faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Professor Richard Ibbetson, praised his work on setting up the tri-collegiate membership examinations and acknowledged the limitations a three-year term can present.

Dr Felix responded by saying: “It is very difficult, and in that role, which is for three years, it is virtually impossible to come up with a novel idea and see it through. Unless you come up with a novel idea on day one.

“But I never saw the dean’s role at the Edinburgh college as being solely my mission, I saw what was achieved as a dental council achievement. It wasn’t just me. I would never have been able to move certain things forward without the support of dental council. It certainly isn’t a one-man band.”

And he believes that the Edinburgh college is in good hands with Prof Ibbetson, saying: “The tri-collegiate membership exams took a long time to get going and to finally get agreement. They are not up and running yet, but Richard is continuing to run with that ball.

“It would be unfortunate if you were dean for three years and then a new dean comes in and decides to change direction – that would mean that dentistry would get nowhere. It is gratifying that Richard is adopting similar stances that I did in terms of the tri-collegiate memberships, which I think will be of benefit to postgraduate dental education and training.”

In terms of his aims and ambitions for the dental directorate, Dr Felix insists that it is still early days and he is realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. He said: “My plan is to develop, but, because of the current fi
nancial situation, we will increasingly be expected to do more with less resource. However, I don’t anticipate that the budgets will be cut significantly.

“I am also keen that the dental directorate plays a full part within NES. One of the strategic aims within NES is to have greater integration between different directorates and I think there are lessons that can be learned from other directorates.

“In the past, dentistry has been held up as an exemplar within NES and it has always been seen as leading a variety of initiatives and we continue to do that. But there are other directorates within NES that are equally taking things forward and it is always helpful to learn from what they are doing, have greater integration and share best practice.”

And it is that spirit of teamwork and collaboration that Dr Felix hopes to tap into in order to drive the directorate forward. He said: “I don’t think any one person can be expected to know everything about postgraduate dental education. There are workstreams that people within the team will have far greater knowledge of than I will, so I will take the appropriate advice from the team. Mine will primarily be a leadership role and, with the knowledge that I have an excellent team working under me, I am very optimistic for the future.”


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