Finding the balance between academia and practice in dentistry

Dr Zoë Brookes graduated in BDS Dental Surgery in 2014 at Plymouth and returned to the University again, this time to teach, in 2017. Zoë now divides her time between being a clinical lecturer in undergraduate dental studies in the School of Medicine and Dentistry and a Dental Associate at NHS/Oasis.

This is Zoë's story

A flexible career path to match my interests

"Dentistry offers a huge variety of career pathways and I have taken full advantage of this to create an interesting and varied career that suits me. 

"I originally graduated with a BSc in physiology and pharmacology, after which I gained a PhD investigating the role of anaesthetics within the microcirculation, both from the University of Sheffield, ultimately becoming a non-clinical lecturer and principal investigator there. Before this I also worked at the University of Alberta in the Department of Physiology as a postdoctoral research fellow, funded by the National Institute for Health Research. 

"Since graduating in dentistry from Plymouth, I have practised in clinics in the city and still work part-time as a dental associate within the NHS. I have successfully been able to evolve my focus to combine teaching alongside clinical and research pathways, offering me a perfect balance for my interests."

Gaining skills across the globe

"Academia has provided me with a unique opportunity to travel all over the world and made me much more open minded and adaptable, as there are so many different educational approaches to solving the same problem."

"The highlight was working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Canada, a country which instilled me with a positive ‘can do’ attitude and where I got to go skiing at weekends and never have to sit in a traffic jam on my way to work!"

Progressing into practice

"When you study dentistry you are training for a profession, not an exam, so embrace the style of teaching that facilitates being able to effectively apply knowledge and committing information to your long-term memory. 

"The transition into practice is going to be hard, so hold on to the gold standard teaching you get at Plymouth, it provides you with everything you need to know. You will look back and realise why the staff told and taught you the things they did and how much they looked after you."

"Good patient management and sophisticated communication skills will ensure your success in dental practice more than any technical skills, although you must have these too!

"Dentistry is a profession, not just a 9-5 job, and while it is stressful, it is good fun too, so instead of taking your problems to work, use work as a chance to get away from them and be happy.

"The beauty of Plymouth is that it is a city surrounded by the sea and the moors, so it is easy to connect with nature and the environment, which gives you a sense of perspective when work and city-life become stressful."

Learning together

"As a mature student, I lacked confidence and I used to take negative comments personally as an indication that I was a failure. The programme requires learning through self-reflection, which made me see positive and negative criticism as feedback, as a result I feel much more confident."

"Now I use criticism constructively to guide myself in a profession that requires lifelong learning, no matter what stage in our careers or how old we are."

Undergraduate dental students in the phantom head room in Portland Square

A role model mum

"Managing a full time academic career, and being a student when I studied dentistry, with two young children is something I never could have achieved without a huge support network consisting of family, friends and University staff. 

"I have always felt guilty that my children would resent me for being a hard working mum, but now instead it seems they feel proud, are strong young ladies and have great aspirations for themselves, so hopefully being hard working has provided a good role model."

"I have learnt you cannot change the past, you can only learn from it. I would just tell my younger self not to worry about the future so much and enjoy the present more."

Zoë’s Plymouth roots

"The teaching quality is second-to-none at Plymouth, being evidence-based and innovative, centring around how students learn, not just delivering facts. It is a challenging approach straight from school, but it quickly creates people who are self-sufficient, highly employable and life-long learners. 

"The staff work with the students, as opposed to conforming to a hierarchical system, and you are part of this team. They really do listen to student feedback, continually amending the course to suit students ever changing needs and improve quality.

"The dental course is clinically and patient-centred, exposing students to patients early, with procedures taught as part of a treatment plan rather than separate entities. This produces graduates that are prepared for practice and can think on their feet."

"I now work on a daily basis amongst many of the academic staff who taught me as a student. As a former graduate now working as a member of the academic staff, I feel extremely connected and proud of the University and want it to succeed."

Follow in Zoë's footsteps at Plymouth

Zoë is now a lecturer in dental undergraduate studies and the Year 2 lead for dental therapy and hygiene. Discover how you can benefit from Zoë's experience by being taught by her on our dental programmes.

  • BDS Dental Surgery
    This pioneering and patient-centred programme is delivered in a supportive and research-rich environment. You'll receive the highest level of core dental skills and knowledge needed for a hugely rewarding career.
  • BSc (Hons) Dental Therapy and Hygiene
    In this innovative and patient-centred programme, you’ll mix with both dental and dental nursing students and learn within a variety of dental teaching clinics, preparing you for your future role as a healthcare professional.

Thinking of returning to study, like Zoë did? Discover more about what it would be like and the advice and services available to you

Before you go, did you know?

  • The UK spends £5.8 billion a year on dental treatments
  • Brushing only once a day means you are 33 per cent more likely to develop tooth decay
  • Around 2 per cent of the population have never visited a dentist
  • 61 per cent of adults in England now attend their dentists regularly. In 1978, the figure was just 44 per cent.
  • A smile is top of the list of things we first notice when meeting a new person
  • It takes 43 muscles to frown but only 17 to smile

Source: National Smile Month website

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