Flying high

14 November, 2014

Last year’s Dental Practice of the Year award, sponsored by Dental Protection and schülke, was created to acknowledge the ‘hard work and commitment that goes into being a great practice’.

However, at the heart of the winning practice there had to be a strong pulse flowing throughout the whole team that demonstrated a commitment to excellence in risk management and professionalism.

The attitude behind the entry from Church Court Dental Practice, in Dumfries, was exactly what the judges were looking for and the team made the trip to London to last year’s Premier Symposium to pick up the award that included a prize of £1,500.

Mark Colwell, practice principal since 2009, explained: “The airline industry’s approach to safety is an often-quoted example of the development of a risk management culture. Establishing a similar, blame-free, environment to manage risk in a small healthcare team may appear simple on the surface, but ensuring it can become a tangible reality has demanded resilience and professionalism throughout the practice.

“The entry illustrated the development of an approach to manage risk as an everyday fundamental of our work. It included a description of the underlying collaborative ‘hard-wiring’, providing evidence of the ethos and culture behind practice development over many years.”

At the practice, he relies on a “core of exceptional individuals” in key roles to work towards team development, ensuring the delivery of these principles becomes “more than merely words and intention”.

He believes the recipe for securing sound risk management involves recognition that a team – with all their strengths, faults and flaws – are simply trying to provide care in often “less than ideal and continuously changing circumstances”.

Here, Mark shares his thoughts on just a few of those exceptional individuals.

Practice manager

Adele Welsh

Adele has worked at Church Court since before any of the rest of us arrived. Grasping the relevance of social and emotional intelligence, coupled with innate ability, her skills have been key to practice development. With her accompanying understanding of patient care at the highest level, she recently led the practice to an excellence in customer service award from the Chamber of Commerce.

Despite leanings towards spending free time in literary and mathematical worlds, on balance we all feel these interests bring indirect benefits in the professional world.

Adele is well read and her skill-base has resulted in an extraordinary ability for realising the potential of individuals.

It may well rest behind anything that could have set us apart in the Practice of the Year Award.

Dental nurse

Heather Coulthard

From a background in general nursing, Heather arrived at the practice along with an unusually practical approach and deceptive level of insight.

She has a voracious appetite to develop an understanding of everything.

Able to hold her own with any professional vehicle service mechanic, she was instrumental in managing the introduction of PreViser risk assessments (DEPPA) throughout the practice. Heather’s recent requests to attend courses on signing and forensic science came as no surprise. Coupled with organisational skill that belies her age, it is doubtless that her participation in these will be productive. We all know any relevant knowledge will be retained by Heather, then applied, maybe indirectly, but always to the advantage of the practice.

Dental therapist

Julie-Anne Irving

Julie-Anne has transformed practice operations by providing every aspect of the therapist role. ‘Gentle’ and ‘unassuming’ are synonymous with descriptions of her approach from patients and colleagues – but they are not the whole story.

On her first day at the practice, Julie arrived driving a similarly unassuming, small, white hatchback. Some weeks later, eyebrows were quietly raised in the staffroom when the source of, thunderous rumblings was noticed in the car park.

Julie’s ‘little runabout’, as it turned out, housed an engine the size of those used by locomotives running on the east coast mainline.

In her own case, Julie’s hidden power is a steely professional determination to embrace the full range of her scope of practice, collaboratively, incrementally, and without any hint of ego.


Lorraine Gibb

Joining the practice in 2000, Lorraine shares – with our practice manager – an exceptional capacity to understand the relevance of social and emotional intelligence throughout general practice.

Skilled communication with patients and colleagues alike, accompanied by their active contribution, underlies all practice development.

While plaque and calculus deposits may regard Lorraine’s uncompromising attention to detail as thoroughly destructive, the same reliable precision finds a more productive outlet outside the clinical field. An accomplished silversmith, she produces some of the finest jewellery.

Mirroring her professional approach, the detail of the pieces she designs reflects the accuracy and skills behind them. They are matched in intensity only by the depths of the darkest sense of humour and a disturbing ability to predict winners at the races with alarming frequency.

Dental nurse team leader

Tracy Irvine

Following 16 years in practice, Tracy joined us three years ago to lead our nursing team and she still continues to protest that the practice should share her scepticism of her own leadership abilities. We simply ignore her.

We are also happy to continue accepting awards, on her behalf, for the collaborative approach she leads.

Tracy appears not to have noticed and we’re not going to spoil things by telling her.

Abilities to lead by example and share new knowledge amongst her colleagues, with nothing other than self-effacing generosity, did not appear on the original job description.

With any luck, Adele will quietly make the relevant additions to the employment file so the practice can take the entire credit for these, too.

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