How can a VET dental qualification help your career prospects?

Post by Open Colleges on June 19th, 2020

**This article was last updated in June 2021**

Alex Park is an Open Colleges alumnus who studied the HLT35015 Certificate III in Dental Assisting online.

Alex realised that he wanted to study dentistry while he was working in a pharmacy in Gippsland, Victoria.  He chose to study an online course in dental asssiting with Open Colleges in to help him reach his career goals.

Now, he works at a dental surgery in South Perth while also lecturing at the University of Western Australia Dental School.

We spoke to Alex to get his take on the course, the industry and what he’s been up to since graduating from Open Colleges.

Why choose to study dental assisting online?

The reason Alex wanted to study a VET certificate in dental assisting rather than just throwing himself straight into a university degree was to obtain key, foundational knowledge of the practice and the industry.

Alex admits that previous studies at university were difficult due to a lack of foundational knowledge in the field. He says that he felt like he was “thrown in the deep end.” So he enrolled in the HLT31812 Certificate III in Dental Assisting to gain practical skills to complement his tertiary studies. And because all of OC’s online courses are self-paced, Alex was able to complete his certificate III in just six months.

Learning these core skills and knowledge allowed Alex to get a thorough overview of the industry and allowed him to see how each different role in a dentistry surgery – Hygienists, Receptionists, Assistants and Dentists – interacts with the others. This, Alex says, “really helps you to appreciate everyone in the team.”

What are the skills needed to become a Dental Assistant in Australia?

Dental Assistants do much more in their job than handing tools and equipment to Dentists and Dental Hygienists.

Alex reflects that even though he’s now a qualified Dentist and lectures at university, there are still skills that he uses today that he learned during his certificate III. Plus, his in-depth knowledge of how a dental clinic works has made him a pivotal all-rounder.

If I’m quiet but the other staff are super busy, I come and help out sometimes. I can do payments and schedule appointments. And that’s something that most Dentists won’t be able to do.”

So, what else does a Dental Assistant do in their job?

Some of the skills Dental Assistants need and the duties they need to perform include:

  • sterilising equipment
  • preparing the work area for treatments
  • ensuring patients are comfortable
  • assisting the Dentist or Hygienist during procedures
  • administrative duties such as taking payments, booking appointments and updating patient records.

Depending on your level of skill and experience, there may be other duties you perform under supervision of a Dentist, such as applying topical anaesthesia, fluoride or sealant.

What are the benefits of dental assisting work placement?

Because Dental Assistants work so closely with patients and other dental professionals, a positive attitude and the ability to work as part of a team is really important.

The benefit of studying the Certificate III in Dental Assisting (and many of OC’s other online courses) is that it also includes a structured workplace learning component.

Alex sees his work placement as one of the most important factors of his course, as it gave him practical, first-hand experience of what it’s like to work in a dental clinic while also teaching him a few things you can’t get from a textbook.

“[During my work placement] I learnt that it’s not just about the theoretical skills. It’s also about working with different people and adapting to different personalities. I think that’s an important key message that I like to convey to prospective students that are interested in going on to work in dentistry.

“When I was doing the theory [part of the course], I felt I learnt a lot, but I didn’t know practically how equipment actually worked! I learned so much more once I did my practical assessment.

“Even if your first work placement experience isn’t good, that’s not going to always be the same case. You will find a place with people who you gel with. But learning to work with different personalities is a lifelong skill.”

What can a career path in dentistry look like?

Alex graduated in 2013, and has worked in five different clinics since then primarily working locum jobs. Now, he’s been with the same clinic since 2017 and calls it his “forever home”.

Alex started out as a Dental Receptionist and worked his way up to Dentist.

“They knew how dedicated I was, in that I started on the ground floor, and then I just worked my way up.”

Alex also says he’s forever grateful for having had the opportunity to work in many different roles within different clinics, as it’s provided him with a lot of different skills and an open perspective on things.

“I feel like I’ve become more humble and I always treat my Dental Assistants well. You know, because I know what they went through and how much work they do. It gave me an appreciation of the whole team. It’s always helped keep my feet on the ground.”

What career opportunities are there in dental assisting?

Alex says his qualification helped open the door to volunteering opportunities as well as career progression.

“In 2016 to 2018, I was able to contribute to volunteering opportunities because of the qualification I had.”

During this particular event held at the university’s dental school, people struggling with hardship (such as homelessness) can come in and receive dental treatment from volunteers.

“I was literally able to man the entire [University of Western Australia Dental School’s] stereo sterilisation system because I had two units of competency, which is infection control and sterilisation. Even though I was a dental student at the university, I was also a qualified Dental Assistant.”

When asked about career opportunities in the industry, Alex had this to say:

“It’s always in demand. Every time I work with different colleagues that are Dentists, they’re always looking for qualified Dental Assistants.”

Alex believes there are plenty of opportunities out there for people with the right attitude. “I’ve seen people who go from Dental Assistants becoming practice Managers.

“Ultimately, the job applicability is based on how you cope [in the clinic] and how you can adapt in the workplace.”

For the right kind of person, working as a career as a Dental Assistant can be a great choice. According to Job Outlook, the number of people employed as Dental Assistants in Australia grew from 17,100 to 31,900 between 2014 and 2019. That’s a massive increase of 86% in just five years. And by 2024, that number is predicted to reach 36,400.

Why study an online course with OC?

Alex chose to study with OC because we offered a flexible and convenient solution for him.

But he was also incredibly happy with the support that he received from his Trainer, Natalie Katers.

“It’s amazing to learn from someone who knew what they were doing, not someone who came out fresh from dental school – or an academic with no practical application.”

OC’s online qualifications are all specifically designed to help you reach your career goals by teaching you relevant, in-demand, practical skills and knowledge employers are looking for today. Our courses are designed in collaboration with industry experts and delivered by qualified Trainers and Assessors, like Natalie Katers, who have years of experience.

Online study is often a flexible and convenient option for many people – especially those who are balancing other commitments such as work and family and can’t commit to studying full-time on campus.

Studying online can be challenging – you need to be disciplined and motivated as the majority of our online courses are self-paced. This means you’re the one who’s in control of your study schedule instead of a Teacher who keeps you on track with strict deadlines. But if you have the right attitude, you can complete your course in record time, just like Alex.

“I think that’s really important, especially when it’s about online study,” says Alex. “It’s really about your attitude and what you want to accomplish.

“It’s not about where you do your course, it’s about the attitude you have.”

By next year, Alex hopes to have completed his PhD.

Are you ready to reach your potential? Enrol in an online course today with OC and see where it could take you.

Not sure where to start? Take the first step to discovering your dream job and take our careers quiz. Or sign up to our 7 day free course trial to find out what studying with Australia’s first distance educator is really like.

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