Ageing academic workforce risks training of oral healthcare students

22 April, 2024 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

The UK’s capacity to educate oral healthcare students is at risk because of its ageing academic workforce. Data published by the Dental Schools Council show that a quarter of the clinical academic workforce is now aged 55 or over.

Clinical academics (CAs) are health professionals who undertake teaching and research alongside treating patients in the NHS. A large proportion of clinical skills education is undertaken by these staff who are often responsible for course design, leadership and delivery as well as contributing to NHS dental services.

As well as quarter of dental clinical academics being aged over 55 the proportion is greater at professor grade with 57% of professors aged over 55. This has almost doubled since 2004 (31%). The impact is not limited to education, as a decline in the CA workforce will have an impact on dental research which provides the evidence base for improved clinical practice.

Now is the time to invest in clinical academia as part of plans to recover and reform NHS dentistry

Professor Kirsty Hill

When comparing gender, the workforce is fairly equal overall, however men are still more likely to hold senior grades compared with women, comprising 68% and 57% of clinical academics at the professor and senior clinical teacher grades, respectively. The data also highlight significant issues in relation to ethnic diversity within the workforce. Ethnic minority academics remain underrepresented especially among Black/ Black British clinical academics (1% of the total FTE).

“NHS dentistry needs reform and expanding the number of undergraduate oral healthcare students is part of that much needed recovery,” said Professor Kirsty Hill, Chair of the Dental Schools Council. “This growth will require more staff to train those students and clinical academics are essential to delivering that education.

“The data show us that the academic workforce is ageing and as we look to future proof how we deliver dental care, now is the time to invest in clinical academia as part of the government’s plans to recover and reform NHS dentistry.

“This includes providing adequate support and funding to early career clinical academics so that we have sufficient staff to replace the potential loss of expertise that may soon be retiring. Including clinical academics in discussions on contractual reform is also essential to ensuring academia is viewed as a valuable and rewarding career path.”

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