Alumni profile - Dr Lochana Nanayakkara
After completing specialty training, I came back to Barts as a Consultant and I have been here for the last sixteen years. I know every single person in this building really well and they know me, so being President of our dental alumni felt like it would be such an honour. It is also the first time we have had a Director of Dental Education for BartsHealth, so this is an exciting opportunity for me to raise the profile of the amazing education that goes on in the Dental Hospital.
What did you study at Queen Mary (The London Hospital Medical College) and what are you doing now? I studied Dentistry and graduated in 1992. I am now a part-time Consultant in Restorative Dentistry at the Royal London Dental Hospital and Honorary Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary. My job as a Consultant has always been linked with education so I am very proud to now be the Director of Dental Education for Barts Health NHS Trust and co-director of the DClinDent Prosthodontic Program at Queen Mary. This latter role is particularly exciting as I am a specialist in Prosthodontics as well as Restorative Dentistry. It is also my first formal role with Queen Mary. My job as an NHS Consultant involves looking after people with complicated medical histories, particularly those patients with Endocarditis. We started our first endocarditis MDT with Barts Heart Centre in the last two years and we have already published our findings at the first national endocarditis conference which was really nice for the team. I also look after patients with inherited bleeding disorders. This is particularly interesting and challenging in Whitechapel where we have a diverse population with very rare disorders. Because of the work we have done and published at the London, I have been nominated to be the President of the Dental Committee of the World Federation of Haemophilia in 2020. This is a 4-year role and it will be a wonderful opportunity to help people from poorer countries access the basic dental care that our patients can take for granted. Outside of my job as a Consultant and Teacher, this year it has been my special honour to be the President of The Barts and the London Dental Club for dental alumni. I am really excited about this and really happy to have a great line up of speakers. I’m hoping that we will get a good attendance and that lots of my friends from the class of 1992 will be able to come. When I am not at the London Hospital, I work in private practice. I have been at the same practice for over 15 years which means I get to see my patients (and the dental treatment I have done for them!) grow up or grow old, which is a luxury we don’t really have in hospital-based Dentistry, so I think I have the best of both worlds. So that’s the day job and I’m a Mum of two girls, aged 13 and 11, as well!
If you had to pick a favourite out of all of these roles what would it be and why? Actually, I’ve just given up my most favourite role which was being the Training Programme Director for Dental Core Training for ten years and Specialty Restorative training for five years. I loved this role because it was about helping young dentists develop and succeed in their postgraduate careers. Unfortunately, I had too many commitments and a period of chronic illness, so it all got too much, and something had to give. Overall, I would say my roles involving education and my patients are my favourite and I’m really lucky to have a job that combines both.
What made you want to study Dentistry? What sparked your interest? Initially, with the usual encouragement from my parents, I wanted to study Medicine, but I didn’t think I would cope well with patients who might die or those I couldn’t help. I thought I would get too attached to patients. In the end, Dentistry appealed to me as a different course as I thought that I could still help people and have an impact on the quality of their lives - and their smile! People underestimate how important oral health is and not to be in pain and to be able to enjoy normal things like smiling with confidence and being able to eat in public. The course itself ticked all of the boxes: learning about the body, physiology, chemistry, anatomy – all of the subjects that I liked and was interested in. At the time of deciding to apply for Dentistry, I played the cello and I was also good at art, so I knew that I had good hand skills which was helpful since you need a high level of dexterity to be a good Dentist.
Why did you put yourself forward to become President of The Barts and the London Dental Club? I was an undergraduate at Queen Mary and then stayed here for the first year after I graduated as a House Officer. After completing specialty training, I came back as a Consultant and I have been here for the last sixteen years. I know every single person in this building really well and they know me; I feel very happy here and not a day goes by without something good, funny or rewarding happening, so being President of our dental alumni felt like it would be such an honour. As you can probably tell, I’m a really loyal fan of this place! Also, having been so involved with teaching at the London, I wanted to give young graduates a voice and have made a point of asking recent graduates, just starting out in their career, to contribute to the lectures on subjects they have studied whilst at Queen Mary.
As President, what does your role involve? The day to day business has mostly revolved around organising the Annual Clinical Meeting; I am very well supported by my colleagues in the Alumni Engagement Team, Anila and Sara, so it has been pretty straight forward – so far! As president, it is my responsibility to put the programme together and come up with a range of topics and speakers that alumni would be interested in coming to hear. This can be quite tricky as you need to cater to really experienced alumni as well as more recent graduates. I wanted to find a programme that will interest everybody with a mix of relevant clinical topics as well as non-clinical, but interesting, subjects like resilience and the challenges for the future dental workforce. This year I have also been involved with supporting a new initiative of Queen Mary which is the dental mentoring programme put together by Dominic Hurst. We are going to launch it officially at this Annual Clinical Meeting which is really exciting and hopefully our alumni will be interested in unofficially mentoring our current recent year graduates who are just starting out. Most dental students focus on getting through the course and passing exams, so actually starting to work as a dentist once they have graduated can be really daunting for them. I think that having a mentor at this stage would be really helpful and reassuring for them. I’m hoping that we will get some volunteers at the meeting and then we can pair them up with our recent graduates and final year students.
What do you enjoy about going to the Annual Clinic Meetings and why would you encourage others to come along too? I honestly think that the Dental School is absolutely unique in the sense that we have the most phenomenally warm and friendly atmosphere here and I think it is really nice to come back into that environment, regardless of the stage of your career that you are in. I hope everyone who has studied here would agree and would have happy memories of the place and/or the people they met here. So, I would encourage all alumni to come back once a year to get together and remember how it all started and how much fun we all had and to forget the trauma of the Spring internal exams! For me the essence of the meeting is about the camaraderie and the friendships that have built up over the years and enjoying hearing interesting and varied speakers.
What advice would you give to current students and students considering their career options? I’ve had many cohorts of dental trainees to look after throughout my career and the best advice I would give them is the same advice that my parents gave me: you only ever regret the things in life that you don’t do. So, do as much as you can, get as much experience as you can, get involved with everything that is going on, be really intrusive and ask lots of questions because this is the time to do it, when you are in a supported and protected environment. I would encourage everyone to reach out and make the most of it and not to expect it all to land on your lap.
As consultants and educators, the generation gap is becoming more apparent to us – the education system that our current graduates are coming through is very structured; it can be very difficult for them when they are suddenly studying a high level undergraduate degree where they require a lot of resilience and self-motivation to get through their studies. So, my other piece of advice for current students is: get into a good routine so that you don’t fall behind on your academic targets and do as much as you’re able to do and be proactive in getting lots of clinical experience. Above all, don’t miss out on having lots of fun.
What has kept you in touch with the Institute of Dentistry? Friends, professional opportunities and lecturing; also the fact that I’ve been working here for 16 years…
Who were your most inspiring lecturers and are you still in contact with any of them? Yes, so many! It helps that I’m working here. I would say Frank Burke was the most inspiring and had the most impact on my professional life by encouraging me to apply for my first job as a House Officer in Conservative Dentistry when I was convinced I would not be good enough to get the coveted post. In terms of other inspirational teachers, I would say Adrienne Leon, William Lloyd, Kevin Seymour, Paul Wright, John Besford and Prof Sam. I am still in touch with most of them via Facebook and of course we get to meet sometimes in person at the Dental Alumni Meeting.
How would you sum up our dental alumni community in three words? Friendly, inclusive and accomplished.
Why is it exciting to do what you do and what are your future plans? My newest role as being the Co-Director of the DClinDent Prosthontics programme is going to be very exciting. I am really looking forward to working with the other Co-Director, Dr Tim Friel, who I have enormous respect for and get on really well with. It is also the first time we have had a Director of Dental Education for BartsHealth so this is an exciting opportunity for me to raise the profile of the amazing education that goes on in the Dental Hospital because we seem to be the poor relation to Medical Education. We are not perfect, but we do so many things so well and it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to get recognised for that.
In terms of the future, I don’t really plan too far ahead; it’s fair to say that all of my roles and my promotions have developed out of doing the job that I was already doing at the time really well. My biggest aspiration is to continue enjoying what I’m doing and to maintain the ‘sunny disposition’ that I am known for, during the harder and more challenging aspects of the job. Every single day something good happens, and however small a thing it is, I think you have to be open to them and appreciate them.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Most of my special moments are related to people because we had such a nice group of people in my year. Moving to the new site was also a very special event due to all the light that floods into our clinics and our offices now. Being able to see the sky on a daily basis has been a definite improvement to the old building on New Road.
Do you have a favourite spot on campus? As a student my favourite spot was the grassy bit outside of the Students’ Union on our Whitechapel campus. As students we used to sit there and sometimes have seminars out there in the summer. There was a photo from one of the Queen Mary publications years ago which captured us sitting outside talking to one of our teachers in this very spot!