Access to the next generation of talent is crucial for business progression, and thanks to a longstanding partnership with apprenticeship provider Northern Skills, Elliott McCarthy Dental and Implant Clinic continues to move at pace. Here, Steven Hugill speaks to former dental nursing apprentice turned assistant practice manager Libby Palmer, to learn more about the relationship and the impact it has had on her career to date
“The great thing about an apprenticeship is that as soon as you’ve got your qualification, you can begin to move in so many different directions – the career ladder is never ending.”
Libby Palmer stands by a green dental chair, her hand instinctively reaching to adjust the position of its large overhead light.
Old habits die hard.
She may be dressed in the navy and white office attire of Elliott McCarthy Dental and Implant Clinic, but it wasn’t too long ago the 22-year-old was togged in its purple scrubs.
Learning alongside lead clinician Dr Helen Elliott, Libby complemented time in the Hartlepool organisation’s treatment rooms with studies at Northern Skills – the dedicated apprenticeship and training arm of Middlesbrough College Group – gaining a level three NVQ dental nursing certificate.
But rather than remaining in surgery, Libby, like the illuminative instrument to her side, shifted position, taking on the role of assistant practice manager.
And she puts her progress, in no small part, down to the scope of opportunity afforded by her qualification.
“Apprenticeships let you move onto various things,” says Libby, who was appointed to her post in October.
She says: “With mine, options included continuing to do therapy, going into treatment co-ordination – where you liaise with patients on their journeys – or going into management.
“And having always been interested in the business side of things, and how a practice works, I decided to focus on the latter,” says Libby, whose responsibilities include supporting revenue improvement and social media output.
She adds: “I hope to become a practice manager, and because of my apprenticeship, my potential routes to achieving that goal are amazing.”
Equally significant to her development, says Libby, are the people skills gained from her 18-month learning programme.
“My time at the practice and in college really co-ordinated well,” says Libby, whose course matched four days of dental work with a day in Northern Skills’ Darlington-based Imperial Business Centre classrooms.
She says: “I had a great dental tutor and assessor, in Northern Skills’ Miranda Welsh, whose support was always there if I needed it.
“We did a lot of case studies, were taught about treatments and materials, and I learned about simulations, first aid and oral hygiene instructions too.
“Not only did this provide me with understanding, but because I knew what I was talking about, I could use my knowledge for the benefit of patients on a day-to-day basis.
“The course really helped with my communication skills too,” adds Hartlepudlian Libby, who had already begun working at Elliott McCarthy Dental and Implant Clinic – which recently became part of the Portman Dental Care – when her studies started in January 2021.
She says: “I was such a quiet person, but I’ve grown so much since.
“Getting out there and meeting and working with new people really helped increase my confidence and my life skills.
“And because I’d gone down the apprenticeship route, it meant that when my course ended, rather than beginning the process of looking for a job, I was already in a really strong position.
“You can get just as good a qualification from an apprenticeship as you can from university.
“And the opportunities they provide mean there are no dead ends when it comes to your career path.”
The progression Libby highlights is evidenced in the dental practice’s relationship with Northern Skills.
The partnership had already helped introduce a number of nurses to the sector prior to Libby and, as North East Times Magazine went to print, a further two trainees were due to finish courses as another duo began their studies.
And lead clinician Dr Pauline McCarthy is unequivocal about the impact of the alliance.
She says: “We love our apprentices, and we’ve had some great people come through the business, a number of which have gone on to be therapists.
“Libby was no different; she sparkled from the moment she arrived, both as a brilliant nurse and a people person.
“To watch apprentices like Libby develop and grow is one of my favourite parts of the job.”
Practice manager Kellie Joyce is equally positive, praising Northern Skills’ understanding of the business’ staffing needs.
She adds: “Our working relationship is second-to-none.
“I will always need to back fill nursing positions as people progress, and that is where Northern Skills’ support is so valuable.
“The team knows the standard of dental nurses we require.
“It has provided us with some fantastic staff including Libby, who I know will be a practice manager very soon.
“And because we have such a good relationship, we’re able to have two-way conversations that continue to strengthen our work together.”
Dawn Longmore, Northern Skills’ regional manager for professional skills said “Having an apprentice as part of your workforce is a productive and effective way to grow your own talent.
“Apprentices learn new skills on the job, as well as gaining a recognised qualification.
“As an employer, you benefit from enthusiastic individuals who become valuable members of your team and help your business grow.”