Raising concerns

A dental student raises concerns about a fellow student when they notice they're struggling in their studies.

The scene

A few weeks into a new term, a dental student noticed that a friend in their year seemed subdued, and asked if they were okay. Their friend confided that they had been struggling to concentrate on their studies since the breakdown of their relationship during the holidays. They had started taking tablets to help them sleep at night, but this meant they depended on caffeine drinks to get through the day, leaving them feeling anxious and shaky.

When the first student suggested talking to their tutor, their friend became agitated and begged them to keep quiet, saying they were worried that they would be kicked off the course. Unsure what to do next and how to help their friend, the student contacted the DDU.

DDU advice

While they might be reluctant to accept it, the friend needs support if they are to recover and get back on track with the course. Their self-medicating is also a concern - for them, but also as their decision-making and technical performance are bound to be affected if they are feeling shaky and anxious.

The GDC's Student professionalism and fitness to practise guidance says students have a responsibility to, "discuss concerns with your training provider if you are concerned about you or another student not meeting [the standards expected of students] and discuss any patient safety concerns with your training provider." It also says you should, "take prompt action if you notice that patients might be at risk" including where this is due to the health, behaviour or professional performance of other students.

It might be uncomfortable to do so, but by pointing out their own obligation to raise concerns, the dental student might be able to encourage their friend to self-report to their personal tutor. They could also reassure them that making the first move would reflect well on them, helping them to get the support they need to get better and to stay on the course.

If their colleague refused, the student's professional duty should override any personal loyalty they feel, and they should talk to their personal tutor or supervisor straight away. They should be able to look to their dental school for support after raising concerns.

What happened next

The student spoke to their friend again and managed to persuade them to talk to their tutor. The dental school was satisfied the friend had showed insight into their condition and arranged for them to see occupational health services. After receiving professional treatment for anxiety and insomnia, they made good progress and the matter was considered closed.

This is a fictionalised case compiled from actual DDU case files.

This page was correct at publication on 23/11/2023. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Leo Briggs deputy head of the DDU

by Leo Briggs Deputy head of the DDU

Leo Briggs qualified from University College Hospital, London, in 1989. He has worked extensively in the community dental service including a brief period overseas. He has also worked in general dental practice.

Leo gained a masters degree in periodontology from the Eastman in 1995 and is on the GDC specialist register for periodontics. From 1995-2017 he provided specialist periodontal treatment in both the salaried dental services and private practice. He started working for the DDU in 2005. Between 2007 and 2009 he worked part time at the DDU and part time as a clinical tutor at the School for Professionals Complementary to Dentistry in Portsmouth. In 2009 Leo went full time with the DDU. In January 2016 he became deputy head of the DDU.