The Safe Practitioner: How we developed a new framework of behaviours and outcomes for dental professional education

05 December, 2023 by Kathryn Counsell-Hubbard

Over the past decade, technology, education and basic life skills have all made significant advances, and the GDC needed to ensure our guidance for UK graduates reflected this. Having identified through anecdotal evidence that our curriculum document, Preparing for Practice, was difficult to implement and in danger of being out of touch with modern dental education, we knew a revision was certainly needed. Originally published in 2011, Preparing for Practice hadn’t been revised since 2015. 

The formal review process for revision of the curriculum document commenced in 2022. This included a survey to gather data from education providers and professional organisations about what they thought needed to be changed. We then formed a reference group with individuals from inside and outside the dental industry to help inform our thinking and develop our new expectations for pre-registration education. We also spoke to subject matter experts to learn how best to express some of the new and modified content. 

All of this work culminated in a new framework being developed which we then consulted on. Following the consultation, The Safe Practitioner: A framework of behaviours and outcomes for dental professional education was published, in November 2023. 

Highlights of the new framework

Much of the content remains the same as Preparing for Practice, however an important change is the introduction of the concept of behaviours. Following stakeholder feedback, we recognised that some key attributes required of dental professionals did not work well when expressed as a learning outcome. The new framework distinguishes areas where education providers are expected to monitor behaviours over time rather than use formal assessments as evidence of meeting the requirement. In addition, the terminology used in the new framework has been amended to better convey the intent of a behaviour or outcomes. 

Other changes include additional content added to strengthen specific areas including equality, diversity, inclusion, cultural competence, mental health and wellbeing, insight, sustainability and complaints handling. 

Clinical knowledge and skills have been included that are specific to the scope of practice of each professional group. Most of the behaviours and learning outcomes for the interpersonal and emotional skills, professionalism and self-management domains are common to all professional groups. 

We believe that the new framework will enable education providers to better prepare new dental professionals and, in turn, ensure dental professionals are well equipped for the sector they are joining. 

From safe beginner to safe practitioner 

The definition of the standard that new professionals should meet has changed to safe practitioner. The previous definition of safe beginner was not thought to encapsulate what the expression and supporting definition we are trying to convey. 

Feedback to this change has been almost universally positive, with 85% of respondents in the consultation telling us that they agreed with description change to safe practitioner. 

Positive feedback from the consultation

The new Framework has undergone a rigorous review process. We received 87 responses, which includes feedback from 29 organisations. This enabled us to further improve the framework, prior to it being approved by the GDC Council, and published. 

The introduction of behaviours alongside learning outcomes received strong support with 89% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with this change. Out of all respondents to the consultation, 75 agreed or strongly agreed that the strengthened area of equality, diversity and inclusion had been embedded throughout the framework and encapsulated relevant concepts of the area. 

It would have been easy to discount the criticisms of Preparing for Practice; after all, including everything as a learning outcome allows the regulator a level of control and a certain ease when conducting quality assurance activity of education. But what matters most is that we provide education providers with the right resources to enable them to deliver comprehensive and relevant education that reflects the current world. With the Safe Practitioner Framework, we hope that we have done just that.

The consultation outcome report and Safe Practitioner framework can be found on our learning outcomes review webpage.

What to read next…