School of Dentistry interviews
Sarah Khalil (left) with other dental students

Sarah Khalil, dental student

What is the one best thing about the school?

"The early clinical experience and evidence based learning." 

"I live in Derriford with my family (I have lived in Plymouth since the age of nine – I am from Alexandria, Egypt originally but grew up in the UK most of my life). It’s a convenient place to live, not too far from the main university campus and close to the Derriford Dental Education facility and main Hospital. I have been at Plymouth Dental School for almost three years now, on the Graduate Entry Dental Programme - evidence based teaching, the spiral learning ethos, early clinical exposure and the primary care and community engagement setting really stood out for me at the school.

My previous degree was in London. Plymouth is obviously less busy and the South-West is surrounded by breath-taking scenery. I have found there to be excellent clinical supervision, high quality clinical facilities, impressive use of dental simulation (phantom heads) and engaged student learning. All in all, I’d say Plymouth is a great place to study, live and work. 

The staff-student relationship is very good. Staff are very approachable and supportive and take student feedback very seriously. The School has a pastoral tutor system separate from academic tutoring. Students are able to talk to their pastoral tutors about personal issues that they may not wish to discuss with their academic tutors.

There is very little I would improve about the programme. Perhaps the spread of final year cases over two years would take off the pressure of having to complete cases in a short time interval. It would be desirable to have drop-in stimulated dental learning environment sessions in the latter years for students that have not undertaken a certain clinical procedure in some time and want to familiarise themselves with it before performing on a patient.

I am an active member of DentSoc – the Dental Society run primarily for dental students by dental students – and was the DentSoc President in the previous academic year. The aims of the society are to provide for the interests of its members in educational, social and sporting matters. These include organising company talks, trade fairs, debates, sporting, charitable and social events and end of year balls. Staff have increasingly become involved in DentSoc activities, ranging from charity sporting events, end of year balls and dental debates. Last year we introduced a magazine, ‘On The Cusp’, where the staff have got involved in.

After I graduate I plan to undertake my DF1 and DF2 training and work in the NHS with a view of perhaps specialising in the future."

Ewen McColl, Associate Professor/Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Restorative Dentistry

“Due to the fact that our facilities are based at the heart of the community and due to the fantastic work of our Community Engagement team I really feel the Dental School has a big impact on Plymouth as a whole. This would be difficult in a larger city.”

"I am from Glasgow, and carried out my undergraduate training at Edinburgh University. I’ve been with the School of Dentistry since September 2012 and I teach all aspects of restorative dentistry. Prior to joining Peninsula I served in the military and was the Clinical Lead at The Dental Hygiene School. I have studied at Copenhagen University, The Eastman Dental Institute, Guy’s Dental Hospital, and Loma Linda University in California so think I am in a good position to compare our school with others.

At Peninsula we teach our students in a primary care setting. We have four purpose-built Dental Education Facilities (DEFs) across Devon and Cornwall, where our students treat NHS patients (nearly 15,000 so far) under the supervision of qualified dental health professionals, as part of their training. This hands on approach is supplemented by active engagement in the community, including oral health awareness and access to dental care projects with specific groups, such as primary school children, young mums, the elderly, adults with learning disabilities, the homeless, substance abusers and others. The DEFs and our community activity is managed by Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise and we are the first dental school to put this sort of activity into a social enterprise framework. The whole arrangement means that we create new dentists who are not only clinically excellent, but who also have empathy and understanding for those in their care.

I think we have a fantastic course giving students a wide breadth of clinical experience. We’re lucky in that we’ve got fantastic facilities, the support of the wider dental community in the region, the backing of patients and the general public, and a superb body of students and staff. Because we expose our students to patients early on in their studies, they are able to make a difference in addressing oral health inequalities as well as gaining vital hands on experience – it’s a real win-win situation. We’re constantly pioneering and at the forefront of new and improved ways to do things – and that’s a really exciting thing to be part of.

We have a fantastic relationship with our student body. Academics have almost daily contact with students in the clinical environment, and we have a true culture of being open with each other. If students have any concerns, either clinically or pastorally we have an open door policy which allows students to raise these issues. Each clinical facility has a Clinical Lead. The students also have a named academic as their tutor who they meet with regularly. In addition they get a huge amount of pastoral support from the year leads. 

We have a real family feel to the dental school and we all contribute to our 'On The Cusp' magazine and have regular social events that staff attend. There is always some form of staff involvement in Dentsoc activities. It’s a sign of the mutual respect we have for each other as colleagues, all be it at different stages in our dental careers."