Student Budget Diary: MA Dentistry student on keeping teeth and finances healthy
Have you ever thought of returning to study to do a postgraduate course?
Not only would you need to learn how to manage studying again on top of your busy life commitments, but also how to manage your finances once you've reverted back to student life!
Natalie Bradley is a postgraduate student at King’s College London studying for a Masters in Special Care Dentistry. This Masters specialises in providing dental treatment for people with impairment or disability.
Natalie began seeing patients with impairment when working at an emergency walk-in clinic in London. Here, she saw many patients who were homeless, vulnerable adults or who had cognitive issues like dementia. Unfortunately, these patients found accessing general high street dental practices very challenging and so Natalie used this experience to work in the community, seeing these vulnerable patients. This included her setting up a mobile dental van which visited homeless day centres and soup kitchens, providing care to people who wouldn’t have been able to access dentistry otherwise.
She identified the need to formalise her skills and therefore enrolled to complete a Masters as a stepping stone to be able to make meaningful, long-term impact and to help hard to reach communities access dental care. Here she runs through what she gets up to during her week and how she finds ways to make postgraduate study affordable:
How is my Masters funded?
Unlike undergraduate study, postgraduate tuition fees can vary depending on which university you go to. My course is only run in a few institutions in the UK and the fees for each course were very similar, so this didn’t make a difference to which course I chose. However, if there is more variation in fees for the course you are interested in, this may influence your decision on where you study.
If you choose to do postgraduate study then you may have considered how you would fund this, as unlike undergraduate study, you may not be automatically eligible to take out another government student loan for the entire cost of your studies - plus don’t forget those living costs!
I am currently on a training pathway specialising in Special Care Dentistry and as part of this training I have the opportunity to complete an MSc. This means I earn a salary during training which I am very grateful for as most other postgraduates have to take time out of work to study which results in a drop in income.
I do however have to finance all my tuition fees myself, so I have also taken out a loan from the Student Loans Company. They allow UK students to take up to £10,906 out as an additional loan for Masters study and although this doesn’t cover all my fees, it definitely helps!
If you are worried about how to cover the rest of the costs of study, such as the remaining tuition or living costs, there are some sites out there to help you explore the options. I used Find A Masters to explore other options such as private loans, crowd funding from family and friends and scholarships or bursaries.
Mondays & Tuesdays
I spend these days at the moment completing the taught element of my programme by attending lectures. Soon one of these days will be set aside to do research which I am looking forward to as there isn’t much good quality research published about Special Care Dentistry. We learn about how to work with patients with learning disabilities, complex medical problems, mental health issues, physical disabilities, dental phobias and people who are socially excluded.
Since these teaching days are held at Guy’s Campus in London Bridge, I save money on public transport by walking to the lectures - or I use my push scooter! I also make sure to take my foldable coffee cup and teabags with me to the campus where I can use the onsite kettle rather than having to buy an expensive Starbucks on the way into lectures! Taking lunch in with you is also an easy way to save money (especially if like me, you’re close to places such as Borough Market where there are such fantastic places to eat). Also, making use of library resources instead of buying expensive textbooks or using course materials in e-book format can save a lot of money in the long run.
I spend this day at a hospital in Surrey in theatre providing dental treatment for people who are under general anaesthetic or sedation. These patients, who may have learning disabilities or cognitive issues, cannot manage their treatment any other way. This is definitely one of my favourite days of the week as we often work alongside other medical specialities to provide holistic care for these patients.
Thankfully I can still use my Oyster card to get the train down to the hospital and since I have a 26-30 railcard, I save 1/3 on my travel. If you have a railcard make sure you link it to your Oyster card to get discount off tube and rail fares. If you have to work or travel to internships when you are studying, work out the most cost effective way to get where you are going: walking or cycling are free, but otherwise plan journeys in advance, or buy season tickets if you are making the same journey several times a week as this may work out cheaper.
“Small gestures can have a huge impact on someone’s life.”
Thursdays I spend seeing patients out in the community. It could be visiting detainees in immigration removal centres or treating patients who live in a brain injury unit. I also see homeless patients on a mobile dental van which drives around East London. The aspect which I enjoy most when seeing these patients isn’t necessarily the dentistry, but getting to know each patient and challenging my perceptions of what homelessness looks like.
I remember one gentleman who I had made some new dentures for returning to see me the following week with a box of chocolates as a thank you. By giving him some new teeth, this gave him the confidence to go for a job interview which he was successful in! Just goes to show that sometimes small gestures can have a huge impact on someone’s life.
Fridays are spent learning core topics with other dental specialities back at university. It’s great to learn of other students’ experience of being back in study and how they make things work financially such as finding other part-time work.
I use my time at weekends to try to earn money towards the rest of my tuition. I work locum shifts as an out-of-hours emergency dentist for people who are in pain and cannot get access to their own dentist. I also freelance for Colgate; writing blogs for their online site, lecturing on dental courses and have recently set up my own personal coaching business off the success of my dental blog, A Tooth Germ. These all help in making study viable, although this does mean I rarely have a weekend free!
Other tips that I would recommend for students are to make use of their council tax exemption or discount (which in my household is 25% off!) and finding ways to manage their money day to day. I use one of the online banks, Monzo, to track my money every day and use pots to save for things. After all, you’ve got to make sure to give yourself a treat after all of that studying and hard work!