Clinical Leadership Fellowship

A development opportunity for NHS General Dental Practitioners in Scotland

01 September, 2023 / indepth

The General Dental Practitioner (GDP) Leadership Fellowship1 is a one-year, part-time programme which aims to develop future clinical leaders in NHS Scotland (NES).

Leadership training already exists for dental and medical specialist trainees, as well as community pharmacists. In recent years, Tom Ferris, the Chief Dental Officer (CDO) welcomed and approved an opportunity to add GDPs.

“There was an identified gap in opportunity for GDPs to access NHS leadership training within the existing leadership programmes,” he said. “Scottish Government worked with NES to design this dental programme aimed at experienced GDPs to step out of their clinical work, to be embedded in NHS Board dental management teams, in particular the Directors of Dentistry.”

The Fellowship provides leadership and management skills through experiential learning, supported by a programme of teaching, reflective practice (with peer thinking and 1:1 coaching provided), and access to senior leaders and role models. It presents as an opportunity to explore, observe, and learn about leadership at a strategic level, as well as opportunities for intra- and inter-professional collaboration given the mix of specialty and general dentists within the cohort, the medical and pharmacy fellows, and the wider network across health boards and NES.

Furthermore, it offers potential to work within projects of interest or discover new interests. The Leadership and Management Development teaching is facilitated by Leading to Change with in-person and virtual sessions exploring topics ranging from resilience in leadership, Myers-Briggs, and project management. For 2022/2023, the fellow cohort had three GDPs:

Geoff Purnell, GDP NHS Orkney. Fellowship host board: NHS Fife.

This fellowship appealed to me as I realised that 12 years of experience as a GDP still had left me unsure whether I had the ability to lead a project or with qualities to lead a team. The year provided a great balance of protected time for self-learning, teaching sessions with the full cohort, and host organisation projects. Protected time for reflection as a GDP was rare, and I found it wonderful to have the time to reflect on myself to support my self-learning. The host projects gave me the opportunity to dive into an area of my own interest, sustainability, but now with a larger network of people and resources I didn’t know were available. The year can begin with uncertainty about your role and the work involved but on reflection that is part of the learning experience.

Jennifer Davidson, GDP NHS Lanarkshire. Fellowship host board: NHS GG&C.

During my fellowship year I have learned a great deal about how a health board functions, the specific roles of Chief of Dentistry and other leadership figures, plus accessed many governance and strategy meetings across primary and secondary care levels. From these experiences I have learned a great deal about collaboration and communication with both internal and external stakeholders. My project involved setting up a Clinical Excellence Committee and rolling out a pilot project working in collaboration with NES. Leading a project is something I would not have felt confident doing so prior to this fellowship.

Fiona Andrews, GDP NHS Forth Valley. Fellowship host board: NHS Orkney.

The Fellowship year allows you to get involved and begin influencing as a leader. I have had opportunities to present, to teach and to link in with, for example, the Open Wide national programme and the Realistic Medicine Board in Grampian and Orkney. From the higher level of self-awareness that is gained throughout the year you can put this knowledge back into your work for greater gain. Being grouped with the medical and pharmacy team is a tremendous privilege in gaining from their perspective and insight. From this it has been possible to create conversation and influence around the potential for a value-based approach to dentistry, a project that aims to be continued by the new incoming dental fellows and the “Fellow alumni.”

The value in Fellowship

Collectively we have valued the personal and professional growth as individuals, whilst this programme also presents value also at an organisational level.

“Previous Fellows have commented that they have gained greater insight and a better understanding of the wider system as well as forging links with colleagues from other healthcare disciplines,” said Professor David Felix, Postgraduate Dental Dean. “Participation in the programme has opened other career opportunities in dentistry as future leaders within the profession.  For each cohort it has been a pleasure to see the Fellows develop over the year and I am grateful to them for the contribution they have all made to the work of the Dental Directorate in NES.’’

Tom Ferris added: “I think this has been a hugely successful programme, giving dentists experience of how the NHS system operates in real time. We are now starting our fourth GDS cohort of fellows and there remains a high level of interest in taking up the opportunity. I see these fellows being the leaders of the future and I look forward to working with them.”


Each of the current fellows have enjoyed a successful year and would like to give thanks to the CDO’s office, NES, our host boards and advisors, plus the team at Leading to Change. Good luck to our new incoming dental fellows: GDPs Leanne Scott and Clara Reid.


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