Healthcare
10/23/2020

Conversations with leading women in dentistry series: Fiona Ellwood, dental nurse

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FDI women in dentistry_Fiona Ellwood

Fiona Ellwood

Fiona Ellwood began her career as a dental nurse in the United Kingdom 38 years ago. She is a passionate advocate for education, dentistry, and health. Throughout her career, Fiona has pushed the boundaries of the traditional role of the dental nurse to reinforce the profession’s importance within the oral health community. Through her commitment to higher education, she has established further education opportunities for dental nurses to be able to grow and prosper in their careers. 

Fiona is the founder of Dental Mentoring Network and a member of Dental Mentors UK, fostering and developing a mentoring culture both within and outside of dentistry. Fiona is also a member of the National Advisory Board on Human Factors in Dentistry. She is the patron and executive director of the Society of British Dental Nurses, subject expert at Bangor University, former Chair of the National Oral Health Group, and former lecturer and modular lead at the University of Chester in England. Fiona acts as a key opinion leader for oral health education and preventive programmes across the dental arena, as well as infection control and professional practice. She is a former President of the British Association of Dental Nurses, an examiner for the National Examining Board of Dental Nurses and writes as an editorial board member for the Dental Nursing journal. 

With a master’s in Education, Fiona serves as an External Examiner for the University West of Scotland and as a GDC Quality Assurance Education Associate and Registration Panel Member. She also recently completed an MSc PG Cert in Public Health and a PG Certificate in Mentoring and was awarded a Fellowship by Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh – Dental Trainers  Faculty to add to her honorary Fellowship from Faculty of General Dental Practice.

FDI interviewed Fiona as part of our “Conversations with leading women in dentistry” series, which profiles women in the oral health community who have made inspiring and transformative strides within the oral health community. Read on for an excerpt of our conversation.

What inspired you to become an oral health professional?

That’s a really interesting question isn’t it—and especially when you’re a dental nurse, because the majority of us fell into the profession. In my era anyway, we didn’t particularly plan to get involved in dentistry. I initially applied to go into the armed forces, and I needed something to do until I could go. And having done dental nursing as my experience in sixth form, I thought I’ll go and do that. And I never left. I never left. Here I am 38 years later. I feel like I’ve been around the block 100 times, but it feels amazing.

You told us that you have been somewhat of a pioneer in many ways. We would love to know more about that. 

I think ‘pioneer’ is an interesting word, and it’s one I like to use because I would never like to say that I’ve been the first at everything. That’s not who I am or what I’m about. 

For me, being a pioneer is about looking for different avenues and looking how to make the best out of where you are and what you’ve got. I’m one to say, okay, it’s not a ‘no’—it’s ‘how’ and ‘when’. How can we best attack this, there must be a way around this. I’m not very good at taking no for an answer; I quite like ‘maybe’ or ‘it could be hard.’ But I’m not very good at the no’s. 

I’m proud of the roles that I’ve had so that others could have a better path. Before, dental nurses weren’t expected to do a lot, so the opportunities weren’t there. Historically, we were known as the dental house maidens or subordinates. And that’s where we set off life, which is quite a difficult thing to take at times. But when I look at what I’ve done, in order that people are able to follow in their own way in these sorts of jumps, I know that I did something right. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career in dentistry?

Some of the greatest barriers I’ve faced are red tape and bureaucracy—a ‘can’t-do’ approach rather than a ‘can-do’ one. 

Unfortunately, I think that it will take time to shift the reputation that we [dental nurses] have—people thinking that we’re there just to fetch and carry. I think that era of dental nursing is gone. I think that we’re a valued member of the team, but that’s not always seen by everybody. I think that is probably the biggest barrier, people putting you in a box.

I think our education is also a bit of a barrier. When you’ve got a work-based qualification, it stops you from progressing as easily as the rest of the profession. Being a dental nurse, it’s opened a lot of doors, but it’s also stopped a lot of the doors from opening. It’s been a real challenge. 

And I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve developed the foundation degree for dental nursing in Chester. And I’ve also been working in Wales, and I’m very honored to work with the team there. We’ve developed the level four qualification in dental nursing. And lots of other exciting things will come out of that I think.

What advice would you give to the next generation of women oral health professionals?

Believe in yourself. Never lose sight of what your end goal is, but include other people in that end goal, because it’s a long journey on your own. Find somebody to talk to, to reach out to, somebody to help you plan. 

And look around you, because there will be somebody who has done something similar, someone who can give you advice, or that leg up.

I think whatever you do, you’ve got to have purpose. I’ve always been one to say, this is a journey, an experience of life. It’s not about collecting prizes or points or CPD (continuing professional development). This is about setting off on a journey that is purposeful and meaningful. And who knows where it’ll take you, because sometimes it’s actually good to stumble across something else.

I think as you go grow with your journey, other opportunities come along. Sometimes you can be too structured, you can have too many long-term goals, and they may not be for you in the end. And it’s the better person that realizes that.

Be the best you can be and make sure you take the opportunities that come. They don’t always land on your doorstep, sometimes you need to search for them. And when you find them, make the most of them. 

Can you tell us about an achievement that you’re particularly proud of?

Being accepted as a dental nurse in the arenas that are not conventionally aligned to dental nursing has been my proudest of moments. I was given an honorary Fellowship from the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK). This was a huge step for them and for me to be the first dental care professional (DCP), not even dental nurse, to receive that Fellowship. It was truly incredible. Also to be a Fellow of the Faculty of Dental Trainers at the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and becoming the (Hon) vice president of the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy.

Last year, I was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, which was a phenomenal thing to get. But I was given that for my contribution to dentistry, and (more importantly) on behalf of dentistry. And I think that is why I accepted that honour. I’m very proud to have it, but I took it for dentistry, for all of us, and particularly for dental nurses. It was a passionate moment, really.

And I’m still Fiona Ellwood, dental nurse. And that’s the difference—I’ve never forgotten my roots. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know. And people will judge me by that, but you know what, I really don’t mind. 

I am who I am and that is the key thing in life. If you’re true to yourself, then for me you’re true to others as well. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

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  • FDI President Elect_Prof. Ihsane Ben Yahya
    09/09/2019
    Prof. Ihsane Ben Yahya named FDI President-Elect
  • FDI World Dental Congress
    09/09/2019
    FDI reports high attendance at ADA FDI World Dental Congress, General Assembly election results now available
  • FDI World Dental Congress
    09/09/2019
    Book your tickets for Shanghai! Preview of the 2020 FDI World Dental Congress
  • FDI World Oral Health Day Award winners 2019
    09/09/2019
    Presenting the 2019 World Oral Health Day Award Winners
  • FDI project_Oral Health Promotion and Care
    09/09/2019
    FDI survey says refugees have limited access to regular dental check-ups and screenings
  • ADA FDI World Dental Congress
    09/08/2019
    ADA FDI World Dental Congress Opening Ceremony welcomes delegates, keynote speaker Mark Wahlberg
  • 09/08/2019
    A conversation with Dr Gerhard Seeberger, new FDI World Dental Federation president
  • FDI Endodontics chairside guide
    09/07/2019
    FDI chairside guide proposes a prevention-focused endodontic care strategy
  • FDI project_Oral Health for an Ageing Population
    09/07/2019
    Good oral health a positive part of the ageing process
  • FDI World Oral Health Day_Unite for mouth health
    09/05/2019
    Make a Pledge for World Oral Health Day 2020
  • The Estonian Dental Association receives the FDI Smile Award
    09/03/2019
    Estonian Dental Association and Palestinian Dental Association receive FDI Smile Awards
  • FDI project_GPHP
    08/21/2019
    FDI survey anticipates more registered periodontal specialists and periodontology associations
  • FDI celebration_2nd Global Week for Action on NCDs
    08/21/2019
    Countdown to the 2nd Global Week for Action on NCDs, 2–8 September 2019
  • FDI World Dental Congress
    08/21/2019
    See you at the ADA FDI World Dental Congress in San Francisco this 4-8 September 2019
  • FDI oral health_childhood caries
    08/21/2019
    IAPD Bangkok Declaration on Early Childhood Caries resonates with a global audience
  • FDI network_WHO_Dr Yuka Makino
    08/07/2019
    WHO’s Dr Yuka Makino on inter-professional collaboration
  • FDI_oral health_Lancet article
    07/25/2019
    Oral health in a state of crisis, says The Lancet
  • FDI OHO Task Team Chair Dr Michael Sereny
    07/10/2019
    Collecting standardized data on oral health with the Oral Health Observatory
  • FDI_Journal
    07/04/2019
    Profiling one of the most popular articles published in the International Dental Journal
  • 07/04/2019
    International Dental Journal impact factor increases for 3rd straight year
  • FDI survey
    07/04/2019
    FDI survey says providing specialized endodontic care remains a persistent challenge in many countries
  • FDI_antimicrobial resistance
    06/27/2019
    FDI experts publish guidance on antibiotic stewardship in dentistry
  • FDI project_Oral Health Promotion and Care
    06/20/2019
    Promoting access to oral care on World Refugee Day to support universal health coverage
  • FDI interviews_Dr Manu Raj
    06/11/2019
    Previewing the World Oral Health Forum with Dr Manu Raj Mathur
  • FFDI network event_ 8th World Workshop on Oral Health and Disease in AIDS
    05/29/2019
    Focus on HIV/AIDS and oral health at the 8th World Workshop in Bali, 13-15 September 2019
  • FDI_World Dental Development Found
    05/29/2019
    FDI is offering up to 10,000 CHF to support oral health promotion projects: Apply by 15 June
  • FDI network_World Health Assembly
    05/29/2019
    72nd World Health Assembly misses critical opportunity to drive action on oral health
  • FDI Sports Dentistry
    05/29/2019
    Poor oral hygiene severely impacts training and athletic performance
  • FDI publication_Annual Reports
    05/29/2019
    New publication alert: FDI 2018 Annual Report now online
  • FDI interviews_Dr Alan Budenz
    05/15/2019
    Cadaver workshop helps advance participants’ anaesthesia skills
  • FDI webinar
    05/01/2019
    Webinar: What dentists need to know about the Minamata Convention on Mercury
  • FDI_oral health and tobacco
    05/01/2019
    #WorldNoTobaccoDay: FDI highlights the role of practitioners in fight for tobacco control
  • FDI event_World Day for Health and Safety at Work
    04/28/2019
    FDI announces new partnership with Morita on World Day for Health and Safety at Work
  • FDI_IADS
    04/25/2019
    Op-ed: Dental students advocate for primary health coverage to include oral health
  • FDI Smile Around the World
    04/11/2019
    FDI President Elect attends second-phase launch of Smile Around the World in China
  • FDI interview_Prof. Søren Jepsen
    04/09/2019
    Advocating early-stage treatment and improved patient care
  • FDI_universal health coverage
    04/03/2019
    Oral health must be integrated into universal health coverage #WorldHealthDay
  • FDI Mouth Heroes
    04/03/2019
    Mouth Heroes for Schools: helping teachers give lessons on good oral health
  • FDI World Oral Health Day Say Ahh
    04/03/2019
    How did you celebrate World Oral Health Day? Let us know, win a prize!
  • FDI Paritcipants of the Brush Day & Night project in Nigeria
    03/26/2019
    Reporting back from Brazzaville: FDI attends WHO capacity-building workshop on oral health
  • FDI interview_Dr Urs R. Brodbeck
    03/14/2019
    Unveiling a new electrolytic treatment for peri-implantitis
  • FDI_edodontics
    03/11/2019
    Endodontics white paper calls for treatment to consider patient health and well-being
  • FDI_World Oral Health Day
    03/05/2019
    These are the top five oral health pledges for policymakers on World Oral Health Day
  • FDI_World Dental Development Found
    03/05/2019
    FDI offers funding for innovative oral health projects around the world: Apply by 15 June
  • FDI World Oral Health Day Say Ahh
    03/05/2019
    This World Oral Health Day, inspire your patients to Act On Mouth Health
  • FDI Council member, Dr Alvi
    03/05/2019
    President of Pakistan promotes preventive care for optimal oral health
  • FDI_IDJ_Dr Duangporn Duangthip, Prof. Edward Chin Man Lo, Prof. Chun Hung Chu, Dr Sherry Shiqian Gao
    03/05/2019
    Mechanisms of silver diamine fluoride on arresting caries: a literature review
  • FDI Interview_Dr Christian Moussally
    02/14/2019
    Modern digital dentistry with Dr Christian Moussally
  • FDI network_Health Canada_Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers
    02/05/2019
    Health Canada food guide says free sugars raise risk of tooth decay
  • FDI network_World Cancer Day
    02/04/2019
    On World Cancer Day, #ActOnMouthHealth
  • FDI partner_GSK
    02/04/2019
    GSK steps up to support new FDI project on partially dentate patients
  • FDI interview_Dr Eduardo Mahn
    01/29/2019
    Mastering smile design with Dr Eduardo Mahn
  • FDI Smile Around the World_China
    01/23/2019
    Smile Around the World re-activates in China, seeks to improve oral health of schoolchildren
  • FDI WOHD checklist
    01/09/2019
    Checklists motivate people to Act on Mouth Health for World Oral Health Day
  • FDI IDJ
    01/08/2019
    New year, new editions: Interview with International Dental Journal Editor-in-Chief Prof. Ira Lamster
  • FDI Smile Award
    01/08/2019
    FDI Smile Award: supporting efforts to improve oral health through awarding grants for member projects
  • FDI partner_3M
    12/19/2018
    3M becomes a World Oral Health Day supporter, affirms commitment to oral health for all
  • FDI_oral health and diabetes
    12/17/2018
    Regular dental check-ups for healthy gums may help manage type 2 diabetes
  • FDI interview_ Dr Jurgen Fedderwitz
    12/10/2018
    ‘Learning from the best!’ with Dr Jürgen Fedderwitz
  • FDI_Antimicrobial resistance
    12/05/2018
    Reporting back from the Call to Action on Antimicrobial Resistance in Accra, Ghana
  • FDI advocacy_Minamata Convention on Mercury
    12/05/2018
    Countries meet to accelerate implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury
  • FDI network event_United Arab Emirates International Dental Conference and Arab Dental Exhibition
    12/03/2018
    AEEDC Dubai promises ‘education and innovation transfer’ for its 23rd edition
  • FDI_WOHD_Say Ahh
    11/19/2018
    World Oral Health Day celebration leaves lasting impact, sparks government action on oral health
  • FDI interview_Dr Roger Macias
    11/14/2018
    Listening and learning from the very best in the world
  • FDI project_Brush Day and Nigth
    11/07/2018
    Can Brush Day & Night be replicated in your country? A focus on the methodology and its impact
  • FDI Speaker of the General Assembly Susie Sanderson
    11/07/2018
    Available Now: 2018 FDI Council and Standing Committee Election Results
  • FDI network_Ministry of Health of Portugal
    11/07/2018
    A great win for Portugal: Ministry of Health brings dentists into primary health centres
  • FDI seminar_sugar
    11/07/2018
    Sugars expert Prof. Paula Moynihan talks tooth decay and other NCDs in 12 December webinar
  • FDI_webinar
    10/25/2018
    Register for the FDI-NCD Alliance webinar on collaborating for better health outcomes
  • FDI ADA World Dental Congress
    10/17/2018
    FDI President Dr Kathryn Kell returns home for FDI World Dental Congress 2019 San Francisco
  • FDI WOHD_Say Ahh
    10/12/2018
    World Oral Health Day 2019 ‘Say Ahh: Act on Mouth Health’ campaign calls for concrete action for good oral health
  • FDI netwrok_UN High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases
    10/11/2018
    UN High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases falls short on delivering action
  • FDI_oral cancer and alcohol
    10/11/2018
    Lancet report ties alcohol use to oral cancer – even moderate consumption is not without risk
  • FDI policy statements
    10/11/2018
    FDI publishes 10 new policy statements, demonstrating global consensus on key oral health issues
  • FDI Smile Award 2019
    10/11/2018
    Call to all FDI National Dental Associations: Apply by 30 November for the FDI Smile Award
  • FDI Dental Ethics Manual
    09/08/2018
    Second edition of Dental Ethics Manual launched at FDI World Dental Congress
  • FDI World Dental Congress Buenos Aires
    09/08/2018
    FDI reports on key outcomes of 2018 World Dental Congress
  • FDI
    09/08/2018
    FDI and ICHOM present Standard Set of Adult Oral Health Measures
  • FDI GPHP experts
    09/06/2018
    GPHP experts host symposium at FDI WDC and introduce practical guide
  • FDI World Oral Health Forum
    09/05/2018
    Advocacy leaflet and Roadmap for Healthy Ageing released at 2018 World Oral Health Forum
  • FDI_Oral cancer
    09/05/2018
    Oral cancer chairside guide now available online
  • FDI Smile Award_ Indian Dental Association (IDA) and New Zealand Dental Association
    09/04/2018
    FDI evaluates Caries Prevention Partnership chairside guide, grants Smile Awards
  • FDI interview_PROF. MARZENA DOMINIAK
    08/14/2018
    Anaesthesia and pharmacology headline Year-in-Review session
  • FDI network_UN HLM on NCDs
    08/08/2018
    FDI calls for inclusion of oral health in the NCD response at UN Civil Society Hearing
  • FDI World Dental Congress Buenos Aires 2
    08/08/2018
    Countdown to annual FDI World Dental Congress
  • FDI_IDJ
    09/06/2017
    Browse the special virtual issue of the International Dental Journal on oral health for older adults