Second thoughts lead to first place

17 June, 2019 / indepth
 Stewart McRobert  

When Jane Paterson decided not to pursue her dream of becoming a vet, it was dentistry’s gain. Her commitment as a dedicated GDP in Inverness has earned her the support and respect of colleagues and patients in the local community 

Jane Patterson couldn’t face the thought of having to put animals to sleep. It was that unpleasant aspect of the job that gave her second thoughts about becoming a vet. Instead, she chose dentistry. And it has proved a wise move. Not only has she become an essential part of Torwood Dental Practice in Inverness, but she has also just won the title of Young Clinician of the Year at the 2019 Scottish Dental Awards.

The award, she said, was thrilling but unexpected. “It was such a lovely surprise to be nominated and then shortlisted. On the night I couldn’t believe I’d won. I knew some of the other people in the category – they were all very strong contenders and I thought I had little chance.”

You need to be ready to find out what people really want. It's not easy for nervous patients to let you know what they're thinking

Jane grew up in Co Down where her dreams of being a vet began. “However, the prospect of putting an end to an animal’s life was far too sad a thought for me. The option of a dental career came about thanks to a couple of older cousins who are dentists and really love the job. After carrying out some work experience in their practice I was immediately hooked.”

In 2007, Jane headed to the University of Glasgow. There, she enjoyed every minute of student life. “It’s a fantastic place offering lots of sports, trips and other activities. I graduated in 2012 and did my VT at Torwood. I fell in love with the Inverness area where you are minutes from the mountains and the sea, and it’s full of really great people.”

After impressing during her VT, Jane was offered, and accepted, an associate post. 


It was the variety inherent in the GDP role that attracted her. “At university, I enjoyed all sorts, from paediatrics to oral surgery. I couldn’t pick one over the other, so I thought the best idea was to go into VT and see if I favoured a particular specialism. However, I found I liked everything and being a GDP is perfect because you get to work across lots of areas.”

Having built up a solid patient base, she explained, her priority is to make sure the right resources are in place so that those she sees receive the treatment they need and deserve. “No matter where you work I’m sure that’s at the forefront of your mind – giving patients the best care you can.”

“In Inverness, we’re lucky to be supported by a very good team at the hospital where the oral surgery unit is fantastic and there’s a great children’s department. Although there’s just one restorative specialist, because our practice is now part of Clyde Munro we have access to a wide range of referral pathways. For example, a specialist endodontist visits us every month to provide advice and take on complex treatment. Plus, we have a great referral pathway for implant work and special cases.”

The practice location means her patients come from a wide geographical area. A significant number come from Skye, the Outer Hebrides and Caithness. One patient, who used to stay in Inverness but has since relocated to Oxfordshire, remains loyal to Jane, combining dental visits with a holiday to old haunts.

Notably, patients are not pushed to travel far because their local options are limited. “They make a voluntary choice to come to us. Most don’t find it an inconvenience. They have been coming a long time, like the practice and don’t want to change.”

Good listener

When it comes to the secret of successful dentistry Jane believes you must be a good listener. “You need to be ready to find out what people really want. It’s not easy for nervous patients to let you know what they’re thinking. And with pain cases you need to be able to listen so that you can get to the root of the problem.”

As far as her own success is concerned she said her triumph at the awards was down to the team around her. “They make my job as easy as they can, allowing me the time I need to focus on the patients.” 

With a major professional prize in the bag, Jane’s continuing to progress. “I’m just finishing my diploma in restorative dentistry and once that’s done I’ll be looking at the next stage on the road to an MSc. And, of course, my focus is on the practice where I have great colleagues and great patients.” 

Life on the line

Not content with life as a busy dentist, for the last two years Jane has been a full member of the local lifeboat crew. 

Joining was the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. She explained: “My mum’s from a fishing village in Ireland and when I was small we always looked up to the guys on the lifeboat as superheroes. When I joined, the circumstances were just right. I was settled at work and the lifeboat was recruiting. So, I applied and was successful.”

Naturally, call-outs are unpredictable. In 2018, her boat, based at Kessock, had 26 shouts, which qualifies as a quiet year. “You can be out twice in one night then not have another call for a month. 

“My pager’s on all the time, but during working hours my status is ‘delay’. That means I will attend if possible, but can’t give a guarantee.”

She recalled one dramatic call-out. “It was January, dark and very cold, and we got the call that two children were missing. Water was freezing on our suits and we were part of a team that included a helicopter and our neighbouring lifeboat. Luckily, working with Police Scotland we found the children.”

Coincidentally, life-saving is a family affair. “My husband works with the coastguard. So, often when my pager goes, so does his.”

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Tags: Jane Patterson / Scottish Dental Awards / Young Clinician of the Year / Young Dentist of the Year

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