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Young dentist of the year Jane Patterson: 'If I can make it easier for kids I'll do whatever it takes..."

Just named Scotland's young dentist of the year, Jane Patterson (30), who grew up in Ballynahinch, is renowned for her work with children and nervous patients. She explains to Stephanie Bell how she combines her career with volunteering for the RNLI and training for triathlon events

Dedicated dentist Jane Patterson in her surgery
Dedicated dentist Jane Patterson in her surgery
Jane volunteering with the RNLI’s Kessock lifeboat
Jane with her husband Martin

By Stephanie Bell

As a lifeboat volunteer and dentist, it has not been unknown for Jane Patterson's patients to insist she answers an emergency call while in the middle of treating them.

It is a measure of the high esteem in which the 30-year-old is held that both her employer and her patients are happy to support her in fulfilling her duties to the vital lifeboat service.

Jane is exceptional in many ways and that was recognised recently when she picked up the top accolade of Scotland's young dentist of the year.

Originally from Ballynahinch, she now lives and works in Aberdeen, where she is married to local Coastguard officer Martin Hier.

Her success at the Scottish Dental Awards in Glasgow in April was a real reflection of her outstanding credentials in her profession, where she is especially known for working with children, nervous patients and kids with autism.

Outside her career she is equally driven and as well as volunteering with the RNLI's Kessock Lifeboat, she is a keen triathlete - a punishing sport she recently took up with her husband.

Jane has worked with Scottish dental chain Clyde Munro Torwood since graduating in 2012 and is one of two Northern Irish dentists in her practice.

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While Jane collected the Young Clinician of The Year award, one of the most sought-after accolades in Scottish dentistry, her practice was also shortlisted for the dental team of the year award, narrowly missing out on the night.

Jane's parents George, a retired accountant, and Hazel, a retired chemist, still live in Ballynahinch.

Dentistry runs in the family - her only sister Sarah (28) is also in the profession, based in Birmingham, while four cousins are working in Northern Ireland.

Initially, Jane says she wanted to study to be a vet, but after a brief work experience stint in her cousin's dental surgery she decided caring for people's teeth was the career for her.

She says: "I love animals and growing up I wanted to be a vet, but I realised that the job would entail having to put some animals down and decided that it wasn't for me.

"I did a wee bit of work experience in my cousin's dentist surgery and really liked it. My sister was the same.

"She wanted to study architecture and she also went into my cousin's for work experience and decided dentistry was for her as well."

Jane opted to study at Glasgow University - she fell in love with Scotland and decided to stay, quickly becoming a big part of the local community through her volunteer work with the lifeboats.

Her interest in the lifeboats was also influenced by her family and her childhood.

She explains: "My mum is from Ardglass and growing up we were always at the beach and beside the sea in Newcastle or Murlough.

"I always saw the lifeboat volunteers at their station in Newcastle and on open days and to me they were heroes.

"A few years ago, my home life and work life were both settled and I saw that the RNLI was recruiting and decided to apply.

"I had a load of exams and training to do and I have now been part of the full crew for two years. You are given a pager and I try to make myself available as much as possible.

"Clyde Munro has also been brilliant in supporting me to be part of the lifeboat crew, making sure I have the time I need for all of our training or whenever we are called out for an incident.

"My patients have also really supported me. Of course if I am in the middle of a root canal and my pager goes off I am not going to jump and leave, but there have been many patients I have been treating who say to me 'go, go, go' even though I am in the middle of treating them.

"There was one elderly lady who was having a filling when my pager went off.

"I didn't want to leave her, but she insisted that I go and when I came back an hour and a half later she was happily reading a magazine and having a cup of tea waiting for me."

Jane is part of a 16-person team who are supported by a team of 10 shore crew.

The sensitive nature of some of the emergencies and tragedies she is called to means that RNLI rules forbid volunteers from talking about incidents.

Located close to the Caledonian Canal, a lot of her calls are focused on that particular body of water.

She says: "I feel privileged to be part of the Kessock crew and part of something that is so important in the local community.

"It can be busy enough, but it is really variable. Last year we had 26 shouts and this year so far has been quieter, although two Saturdays ago we were called out twice.

"We have a very close team which is like a big family and we support each other.

"We do see a lot of tragic incidents, but at the end of the day you do know you are helping people."

A major part of Jane's success as a dentist is her ability to reassure young children and other nervous patients.

She says that half are affected by previous poor experiences elsewhere, while the other 50% simply have an irrational fear.

Having had a bad experience at the dentist when she was a child has driven her to take time to reassure children and there are no lengths she will not go to in order to make their visit to the surgery is a positive one.

She says: "When I was in primary five my baby teeth wouldn't fall out and my adult teeth were growing and I had to have the baby teeth all removed.

"My clearest big memory of childhood is having those teeth removed. It's not birthdays or Christmases, my one memory is that visit to the dentist.

"If I can do anything to make it a better experience for kids - to put them at ease so that in the future they will always see visiting the dentist as a positive experience - then I will.

"I will do whatever it takes, even if that means having a tea party on the floor to persuade a child to hop into the seat. And I've lost count of the number of treatments I've performed on teddies."

Jane has also become the go-to dentist in the Highlands for working with autistic children, after her name was shared repeatedly across Facebook groups set up by parents of children on the autism spectrum.

Again, she is prepared to go to any lengths to reassure an autistic child and make the experience as stress-free and painless as possible.

She says: "I treated a couple of autistic children and suddenly I had this big following on Facebook.

"I have carried out consultations on the floor, in the waiting room and in the car; whatever it takes. I don't mind, as long as they are happy."

She has also built a powerful rapport with patients, by chatting about their families, hobbies, interests and personal lives.

One in particular stands out for her: "One of my best successes was a young bride-to-be who'd damaged her teeth in a car accident.

"She was already nervous about getting in the chair and the fact her big day was coming up made it even worse. It was around the time I was planning my own wedding, so I knew exactly how important wedding photos would be.

"It was challenging, because she was so nervous. But we overcame that and also got a brilliant result on her teeth with a combination of really nice white fillings, a couple of crowns and a wee bit of Invisalign braces, to do a bit of straightening.

"Not only did she look absolutely beautiful for her wedding, but six months later she was back for her next check-up, hopped into the chair and was totally relaxed. That was so rewarding to see."

Jane met her own husband, Martin Hier, from Fortrose in the Black Isle, while training at a Crossfit gym in Inverness. The couple married two years ago and started to compete in triathlons and Ironman events.

She says: "We went to the same gym and Martin used to keep his dog Skye, a really cute cocker spaniel, in the car and one day she ran over to me and I petted her. We got talking and kept talking and that was that.

"Every time we are going home to visit my parents they insist that we bring Skye with us. She is the baby of the family.

"We both decided that triathlons were something we could do together and we've been doing them for two years now and really enjoy them.

"We've done a few small ones and our biggest was the half Ironman in Edinburgh - we are planning another in Dublin in August, which we will combine with a trip home to Ballynahinch."

Jane is thrilled to have won such a huge accolade and paid tribute to her employer for enabling her to win the award: "It was such a shock when they called my name out. It has been wonderful working with Clyde Munro.

"I can't thank the senior team enough for all the time and resources they have put into the practice, allowing us to continue to provide the highest standards of patient care."

Jane's success in the awards has prompted her bosses to launch a recruitment drive in Northern Ireland.

Clyde Munro Dental Group has 21 practices In Scotland and employs more than 80 clinicians, with around 150 additional employees, and treats more than 160,000 patients.

To fuel its growth, bosses say that attracting and retaining the best staff is essential to long-term success. The firm believes its offering in Scotland could prove highly tempting for the brightest and best in Northern Ireland.

Jacqui Fredrick, group clinical director, said: "Jane is the perfect example of talented young dentists from elsewhere in the UK who have moved to Scotland and found great success as part of the Clyde Munro Group.

"This includes a significant number of dentists from Northern Ireland.

"We don't just offer careers for dentists; we are also keen to hear from dental nurses, hygienists and other clinicians who think that working in Scotland with a fast-growing and progressive dental group is the kind of long-term career they are looking for."

  • Anyone interested in finding out about job opportunities with Clyde Munro should send a CV and covering letter to recruitment@clydemunrodental.com

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