The problem with recruitment

14 October, 2019 / management
 Susie Anderson Sharkey  

As a profession, we need to up our game to attract a good number of potential candidates

Susie Anderson Sharkey


When I started in the dental industry 30 years ago, recruitment was not a problem. Whether you were looking for an associate, a hygienist, or a nurse, there was always an abundance of applicants. Way back in those days it was normal to advertise in the local papers. When we advertised for a dental nurse it was not unusual to have at least 35 applicants. Granted, you had to sift through them and go through the elimination process, narrow down to five or six and move forward from there. Things have changed so much over the decades. Does anyone even advertise in the Evening Times and Glasgow Herald? In fact, it’s no longer called the Glasgow Herald, merely The Herald. Confession time: I haven’t looked at either paper for years!

In this age of digital everything, even the way we advertise is now digital. And to be fair, I do believe it is a much easier process. I remember having to phone the newspaper, count the words and lines I had, read it to the person on the other end of the phone then I had to write a cheque (remember those?) and send it to the newspaper so that my ad could be published the following week. Did we really do that? Yes, we sure did! However, nowadays you log on to your chosen advertising site, write your ad and, hey presto, you sit back and wait for the applications to role in … and therein lies the problem(s). Let’s say we are advertising a position for a dental nurse, either full time or part-time; it doesn’t matter. Over the past few years I have noticed the following:

  1. There are not nearly the same numbers of applicants
  2. People who do respond clearly don’t read the ad as they don’t fit the criteria
  3. You are pretty well guaranteed that at least one candidate will not turn up for interview
  4. When you offer the position, you have the situation where the candidate backs out at the last minute (this actually happened to a colleague of mine in the past month).

So, let’s have a look at each point and see if we can understand and get an answer to why it is so difficult to recruit a dental nurse.

There are not nearly the same numbers of applicants. I think there are many reasons for this, one being that you don’t have the same numbers of people entering the dental nursing profession as you did 30 years ago … and you will notice I have used the word ‘profession’ for indeed that’s what it is. For many, let’s face it, with young ladies 30 years ago there was not the same attitude to dental nursing as there is today. In fact, dental nurses were routinely referred to as DSA’s, Dental Surgery Assistants, with no mention of the fact it was, in fact, a nursing position. Thankfully, the profession has moved on enormously and there are now very clearly defined opportunities for dental nurses to expand their knowledge, professional qualifications and experience in their chosen environment. 

With all the above in mind, the numbers of qualified nurses who stay in the profession long term can seem quite disheartening. I’ve known of fantastic nurses, with post-registration qualifications who decide to leave the profession altogether, and I can’t help but feel saddened by the fact we are losing a valuable member of the dental nursing profession. Salary is very often a real factor. Historically, dental nursing has not been a very well-paid profession and to be honest, for the work that a dedicated, qualified nurse carries out, I tend to agree that it is relatively poorly rewarded. A piece of advice to practice owners: Forget the national living wage or for that matter the real living wage. The national living wage for over 25s currently sits at £8.21 per hour (yes really!) and the real living wage sits at £9.00. Pay your nurses a wage in which they can live reasonably on in the 21st century with equally enticing terms and conditions that mean you won’t lose them to working on a shop floor because it pays more! I know this is all pretty controversial, but sadly it’s the truth. The nurse is the backbone of your practice, carrying out many different duties, working long hours, and deserves the financial remuneration all that entails. (I can see I’m going to lose a few friends here!)

In regard to point two where applicants don’t fit the criteria … make sure you have a clear job description and if they don’t fit the criteria, move on.

Point three; candidates who don’t turn up for interview. This happens in almost every practice that advertises for a nurse. And I’m not sure why it happens so regularly as surely the candidate knows that dentistry is a small pond and dentists talk to each other? Their name will soon get known to would-be employers. Do you contact them? Do you find out why? When I was a practice manager, and this happened to me, I didn’t contact the candidate – but I did have a ‘no show’ list!

And so, to point four – where the successful candidates back out after accepting the position. This does happen occasionally, normally due to unforeseen changes in circumstances and can’t be helped. However, I have known a dentist to be let down by a successful candidate because they were going for multiple interviews and after having said ‘yes’ to dentist number one, they decided to then accept another position. Considerable time and effort had been expended by dentist number one who was none too pleased with the outcome and felt he had been ‘mucked around’. 

Does the above help to answer the question regarding the problem of recruitment? Does it raise more questions than answers? Maybe, maybe not. As a profession we have to dig deep, have a look at our own policies, procedures, the way we implement policy and see if there is anything we need to do to up our game to attract a good number of potential candidates who will be pounding at our door begging us for a job. We’re clearly not there yet.

And finally, to quote a colleague: “It doesn’t help when they apply and it stipulates they must be GDC reg. Are they GDC reg? No? Don’t apply then!”

If you wish to contact Susie about this article or other practice management issues she can be reached at

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