How to avoid a student fitness to practise investigation

Dr Sarah Ide explains why your behaviour and conduct at dental school matters now and in your future career as a dental professional.

It’s a great achievement to gain a place at dental school, but sadly, a few dental students are unable to progress beyond this stage because of serious concerns about their performance, professional behaviour or health. 

We’re here to help if you are the subject of a FTP investigation. We’ve assisted with 101 dental student cases over the last five years. Our student member guide sets out what assistance we can provide and examples of situations where we can and can’t usually assist. Of course, we’d much rather help you avoid all that stress in the first place.

With that in mind, here are five ways to help keep yourself out of trouble at dental school.

1. Be proactive if you’re in danger of falling behind

Confide in your personal tutor or another member of staff if you find you’re struggling academically, rather than bury your head in the sand. It’s much easier to get back on track with their support and encouragement, rather than wait until you’re asked to explain a deterioration in your performance or attendance record (which could escalate to a fitness to practise issue in some cases).

If something else is bothering you – your personal life, finances or anxiety, for example – it’s important to seek help before this affects your health or your studies. Contact your dental school’s student services, and read this article for more resources.

2. Be open and honest if you have a brush with the law

An undeclared criminal conviction or caution could lead to allegations of dishonesty, which would raise questions about your fitness to practise. As we explain in our declaring convictions guide, it’s better to be upfront with your dental school about criminal matters, and you will also need to declare these to the GDC when registering to uphold standards of conduct and professionalism.

3. Don’t drop your guard on social media

Social media can be a really useful resource and a way to stay connected, but we’ve also seen examples of students getting into trouble for their activity, including breaches of patient confidentiality and posting derogatory/offensive content.

As this article highlights, always think before you post. Register for our webinar to discover how to ensure social media is an asset not a liability.

4. Be careful to avoid accidental plagiarism in written work

Quoting from other works is not a problem if you use quotation marks and the correct references, but plagiarism almost always leads to a fitness to practise investigation as it suggests a lack of honesty. Dental schools are now routinely using text-matching software to identify words and phrases in submitted work that match those in other works.

It’s easier than you think to make a mistake if you’re rushing to meet a deadline, so take precautions:

  • ensure you accurately record quotes and references in your rough notes so you don’t inadvertently use wording that’s been copied from another source
  • pay attention to how you have paraphrased authors’ ideas (you need to do more than change the odd word)
  • review your written work before submitting it. 

Finally, technology is a useful learning tool, but don’t resort to AI-powered writing tools to generate assignments. Universities are increasingly switched onto this and being caught cheating in this way could affect your prospects.

5. Don’t blur professional boundaries

It’s never too early to focus on communication skills so your interactions with students, colleagues and patients are polite, respectful and friendly (face-to-face and online) and in line with the GDC’s core guidance for dental professionals.

For instance, avoid making personal comments and jokey remarks that might offend. Keep your relationships with patients strictly professional – it’s risky to pursue a relationship with a patient or encourage inappropriate behaviour from them. If you are offered a gift from a patient, ask your personal tutor for advice before accepting it.

Remember that it’s far better to pre-empt problems than let them overshadow your time as a dental student or sabotage your career.

If you’re worried about something, seek advice from your tutors or try your student support services. If you're a DDU member, you can also email or call our helpline to speak with one of our dento-legal experts.

This page was correct at publication on 01/02/2024. 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.

Sarah Ide

by Dr Sarah Ide

Sarah Ide is one of the dento-legal advisers at the DDU. She qualified in 1992 from Guys and worked there as a house officer before entering general practice as a VT. Sarah worked in independent and private general practice for 25 years and completed an MSc in Aesthetic dentistry at King's. She's been working at the DDU for over six years, initially combining this work with general practice, and now working here full time.