Irish dentist picks up top prize at Scottish awards ceremony and explains that the win was tinged with a little sadness
When Cork graduate Ciara Sutherland realised she had a number of missed calls from her practice manager on her day off, she feared the worst. Busy looking after her two-year-old son Conall at home in Edinburgh, she immediately thought that there had been an emergency with one of her patients.
As it turned out, it was nothing of the sort and the news was much better than expected – she had been nominated for the Dentist of the Year award at the Scottish Dental Awards 2017. And, a few weeks later her name was read out at the star-studded ceremony in Glasgow and she became the youngest winner of the award in the event’s short history.
Ciara said: “When I saw I had three missed calls from my boss, my first thought was that something catastrophic had happened to one of my patients. Even when I’m at home, I’m always thinking of my patients, always hoping that their recent deep filling isn’t sore, their aligner isn’t irritating them or their root treatment isn’t too tender. Maybe it’s this constant concern, and perhaps sometimes excessive worry, is what won it for me. I think my patients know that I care so much.”
After qualifying from Cork in 2008, Ciara and a few of her classmates decided against moving to London like so many of their predecessors and instead moved to Edinburgh in search of work. Ciara’s first job was in Bathgate, West Lothian, and she fondly remembers the warm welcome the practice principal gave her. She said: “I’ll never forget how welcoming and helpful my first boss was – a cheery Highlander named Dr Don Macleod, who was, incidentally, intent on finding me a Scottish laddie so that I would stick around!”
She joined City Health Clinic in the centre of Edinburgh in 2012 and lives in the Scottish capital with her husband Dave, a sheep farmer, and their young son. Ciara has a special interest in cosmetic dentistry including invisible adult braces, teeth whitening and advanced stain removal. She is also recognised for her ability to reassure the most nervous dental patients visiting her practice for
She explained that the element of her job that she most enjoys is the people, as simple as that. She said: “I have been at City Health Clinic almost six years and I feel I have a great relationship with my patients. I know them all really well. I actually look forward to having them back and hearing about how the wedding went, how the holiday was, what the grandchild was named and so on.
“Clinically I am a big fan of minimally invasive dentistry and love the difference that just a little Align, Bleach and Bond can make.”
As well as being a particular favourite of brides (and grooms) to be who are looking to improve their smile for their wedding day photography, Ciara is also undertaking training for cosmetic facial work. This will include wrinkle relaxation, prevention injections and fillers.
Shock and sadness
The Scottish Dental Awards 2017 were held at the Glasgow Hilton in May with 500 guests enjoying a star-studded dinner and ceremony. Hosted by comedian and radio personality Des Clarke, the event was in its sixth year and featured 16 awards from DCP Star and the Style Award up to Practice of the Year, Dentist of the Year and the prestigious Scottish Dental Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ciara, whose practice was also up for the Dental Team Award, explained that when her name was read out her initial surprise and delight proved to be bittersweet. She said: “When my name was read out I was in absolute shock. I really didn’t expect it but was so thrilled. It was also tinged with some sadness. My dad passed away two years ago and, having supported me through it all, all the exams and study and challenges, it made me sad that he was not here to see the recognition. I know he would have been very proud.”
However, despite these reflections, her friends, family and colleagues on both sides of the Irish Sea have been delighted at news of her award. She said: “My family in Ireland were thrilled and being in the local Cork newspaper was of course the pinnacle. My husband Dave along with all my work colleagues seemed so proud that night. City Health Clinic was shortlisted for the Dental Team Award and we really do have a great team spirit. We are all genuinely great friends at the clinic and I feel the patients pick up on that warm atmosphere.
“My patients were also so happy. It was so nice to hear them tell me that it was ‘well deserved’.”
The judges revealed that Dr Sutherland was the “outstanding choice” for Dentist of the Year. Their comments included: “We were impressed with the amount of postgraduate training and further education Ciara had amassed in her career so far. While clearly a driven and ambitious individual, her nomination also managed to convey her ability to provide a calm and gentle environment for her patients.”
A number of patient and colleague testimonials were submitted to the panel as part of Ciara’s nomination and the judges all agreed that: “It is clear that Dr Sutherland is held in high esteem by patients and colleagues alike. Her professionalism, outstanding patient care and attention to detail are clear. She has also built up a reputation for real warmth and depth of feeling in the way she helps patients through each stage of their treatment.”
While there are many dental professionals who don’t put too much stock in industry awards, Ciara believes that they can play an important role in modern dentistry. She said: “I think sometimes we can all get bogged down with excessive worry and stress about our patients. It is so nice to take stock, take a deep breath and realise that you are appreciated. The awards are a fantastic way of recognising that all that hard work does pay off.
“Dentistry, like every job, has its challenges and there will be days that are really tough but it can all turn around so quickly when you see the gratitude and appreciation your patients express and there’s nothing like that feel-good factor of helping people.”
And, for all those dentists and teams pondering entering an awards competition, she said: “Go for it, there is nothing to be lost. It’s a confidence boost that we all deserve and could all do with. If nothing else it’s a great excuse for you and your team to get glammed up and enjoy a great night out together!”
Looking back on the whole event, Ciara is still delighted with her achievement and it has only made her more motivated at work. She also believes that her award is great proof that it is possible to have a family and a successful career in dentistry. She said: “I’m so thrilled. I love my job – and it’s so great to hear that my patients actually look forward to their visits to the dentist.
“Whether I’m working with a bride-to-be to get her perfect smile, helping a nervous patient or planning more complicated treatments, I really like that I get to know everyone in the chair. I’m delighted to see that by simply being kind to your patients, you can gain recognition.
“It’s also such a boost to get this award now, just a year after being back from maternity leave. It proves that being a mum of a toddler is totally compatible with progressing a career.”