The experience of graduate dentists is often a familiar path. From the collegiate atmosphere of uni you fall into the relatively isolated world of private practice – and don’t move much beyond it. But even if you don’t have a particular plan for expanding your horizons or becoming a specialist, the experience of Dr Poppy Anastassiadis shows there’s a lot of benefits to seeing an opportunity and seizing it. And with a fair bit of work, achieving success.
“It sounds flippant now,” she says, “but I had done some work experience in the dental practice and I thought, ‘This looks interesting.’ And then I got the offer to study at the University of Adelaide and thought, ‘I’ll give it a go’.”
Anyone who has tackled a dentistry degree knows giving it a go involves a lot of work and determination. In Dr Anastassiadis’ case, her curiosity turned into something she was very passionate about. It also led her down complementary paths in private practice and academia. She also managed to earn a Fellowship with the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons (RACDS) – at the age of 25.
The gap between theory and practice
There is inevitably a gap to some degree between what you learn in dental school and what you deal with in the world of clinical practice. “Dentistry is never black and white,” says Poppy. “There’s always a hundred different ways of doing things and there are a lot of grey areas. You need to use what’s available in the research to help give you a foundation. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that when you’re treating a patient, you’ve got to care for the patient who is sitting in front of you. The unique factors that characterise your patient means that they will never be the same as the patient or patients that were described in a clinical study.”
That becomes more apparent the first few years into clinical practice – while your lived experience helps you connect many of the things you’ve learnt.
One of the ways Poppy managed that gap was to commit to attaining Fellowship with RACDS. RACDS is an independent body that is a community, a professional body, as well as an education institute. “They have different programs depending on interest and what qualifications you have,” she explains. “You can achieve Fellowship in general dental practice (GDP) by completing the primary exams or attaining Membership with the GDP program. Successful completion of pathways along with clinical experience confers eligibility to sit for final exams.
“Once you’ve finished the final exams you’re recognised with a postgraduate qualification and granted use of the post-nominals FRACDS (GDP), recognising your achievement of knowledge and skills to practice clinical dentistry to the highest standards.”
“I think once you’ve had a bit of experience, being able to go back and apply yourself, evaluate your grounding and foundation, look to the current literature and be so much more academic and evidence-based in what you’re actually doing for your patients, is very rewarding.”
Reaping the rewards of getting involved
Since that time Dr Anastassiadis’ career has taken her in complimentary directions: lecturing at the University of Adelaide, working as a general dentist, studying for a Masters in Clinical Education, and elected as councillor for the South Australian branch of the Australian Dental Association. The latter came about because someone recommended her and she jumped at the opportunity to be involved.
“It’s a bit of a reoccurring theme of this story, isn’t it?” she laughs. “Someone that was involved in the college said, ‘I think you’d be a good fit for the ADA.’ It wasn’t anything I would’ve thought about before then. But again, by being involved in different things, I think I’ve got quite a broad exposure to people in the profession. So I said, ‘Okay’ and there I developed an understanding about what goes on behind the scenes in terms of advocacy, and the challenges that are facing the profession as well. And how we can be involved in working for those things for patients and dentists at large.”
Being deeply involved in her profession from both an advocacy standpoint, an educator, and through RACDS is not only personally satisfying, she says. It also mitigates against the profession’s tendency towards isolation. “I think (isolating ourselves) is definitely something that we can do quite easily,” she adds. “But that shared experience and those connections (you can create by getting involved), that’s nice. It’s not something that you find easy to maintain when you’re out of uni and you’re busy working. So that was a nice way to do it as well.”
Dr Poppy Anastassiadis
ADA South Australia Councillor
Lecturer, Adelaide Dental School
Mentor, RACDS Membership Program
Employed Dentists Working Party representative