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The journey to the specialist list

29 November 2019

The journey to the specialist list

The GDC has recognised a variety of specialties since 1998, and today there are 13 specialities recognised in the UK by the GDC. For those that have not been granted an automatic right of entry to the Lists through the ‘grandfathering’ grace period, the journey to the specialist list has been more complicated. Nevertheless, dental professionals across the world regularly rise to the challenge to further their dental education and advance their professional career.

GDC regulations state that for a dentist to refer to themselves as a ‘specialist’ in one of the 13 recognised specialities, it is necessary to be listed on one of the GDC Specialist Lists. There are two routes of entry onto a specialist list. The traditional route is by completing a three to five-year specialty training programme and relevant assessments and exams, resulting in the GDC’s granting of the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST) and entry onto the list. The second route is the GDC’s Specialist List Assessed Application process, whereby applicants are required to provide evidence of equivalence to achieve recognition on one of the Lists.

Put simply there are two main routes for entry to the Specialist Lists for UK graduates:

  • By becoming the holder of a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (“CCST”);
  • By demonstrating, to the GDC’s satisfaction, that the applicant has knowledge of and experience in the specialty derived from academic or research work which the Council accepts as being equivalent to the knowledge and experience which will be acquired during the training required for a CCST award.

According to the GDC website, the latter “assessed route” can be demonstrated through documentary evidence of your academic or research work which relates to the specialty in question, and maps to the relevant specialty training learning outcomes.1

Where possible, such evidence could include:

  • Evidence of any postgraduate qualifications derived from academic or research work including certificates, an abstract of any thesis and a copy of the syllabus;
  • Evidence of any supervised clinical practice which could include validated clinical logbooks, a portfolio of other achievements, course prospectuses and syllabuses, evidence of successful completion of training programmes and any completed work-based assessments, names and qualifications of training supervisors, and evidence of any general professional training prior to commencing academic or research work in the specialty;
  • Details of research projects you have been involved in, details of grants awarded, abstracts of publications, names and addresses of supervisors, validated logs of clinical treatment undertaken as part of the research project, and outline(s) of your particular clinical or other responsibilities and the ways in which these are deployed.

The GDC is currently developing its approach towards specialist lists with a number of projects underway. This includes a recent consultation which sought views on proposals to revise the purpose and criteria for specialist lists and the principles for maintaining accreditation on a specialist list accreditation. The outcome of that consultation is due by early 2020 so watch this space.

GDC Education Policy and Quality Assurance, Manjula Das, said: “2019 has seen much focus and progress with regards to our approach to specialist lists, not least our recent consultation which explored some of the core principles in this area. As we approach 2020, I look forward to continuing our close working relationship with key stakeholders in the specialist arena, working on a range of further projects, including a revision of the specialist curricular and improvements to the Specialist List Assessed Application process”.

Application for specialty training

According to the Dental Gold Guide 2018, there are over 400 specialty trainees in the 13 recognised dental specialties in training at any one time in the UK,2 and it is no secret that there is competitive entry for specialist training posts.

During the years following graduation from dental school you should aim to gain a broad range of experience and knowledge by completing a variety of training posts. Particularly, completion of foundation/vocational training and the MJDF/MFDS examination are likely to be highly important for a successful application to specialty training posts. While the possession of the MFDS (Membership of the Joint Dental Faculties) or MJDF (Membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery) diploma is not mandatory for entry into a specialty training post, many of the candidates from the UK will have passed one of these examinations.

It would be very unusual for a dentist to be accepted onto a specialty training programme without having gained general experience in many aspects of routine dentistry in addition to experience in secondary care. Typically, most universities would prefer that applicants for higher degrees have at least two years of varied clinical experience working as a dentist before applying for a postgraduate degree course.3

Additional achievements, such as audit completion, poster presentations, publications and attaining prizes and awards, are all valuable. Membership of the relevant societies is also highly recommended. This will allow you to build and develop a strong CV for any future career pathway but is particularly important for the competitive arena of specialist training.

It is also very important to keep on top of your Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in line with the Enhanced CPD Scheme introduced in 2018 for dental professionals. This includes the need to have a personal development plan (PDP) that should be reflected in both your verifiable and non-verifiable CPD activities (although the latter no longer needs to be declared).4 Regular attendance to courses and lectures shows a passion for education, so choose your courses and lectures wisely and ensure that these are plentiful for your chosen specialty as these provide evidence of your interest in the subject.

This will be of huge help when it comes to preparing for your interview. A good interview requires practice and thorough preparation. The more prepared you are for the interview, the more confident you will be in yourself and the more likely you are to succeed. Arrange a mock interview with a colleague with experience of the specialist interview process – it’s useful to ask the recent specialty registrars of their interview experience.

Attaining specialist status

Once accepted into training, all trainees are allocated an individual National Training Number (NTN) by the Postgraduate Dental Deans and regularly assessed to ensure progress in their specialist training. The assessment process for specialist trainees in dentistry (formerly called the RITA assessment, record of in-training assessment) is now called the ARCP (Annual Review of Competence Progression). A satisfactory ARCP is required for the time you are training to be a specialist. At the end of the training period you may then enter the specialist examinations, where applicable.

Satisfactory completion of these criteria, in addition to a recommendation from the Dean to the GDC confirming your achievement of all the competences requires, will allow you to apply to be included on the GDC's specialist list. However, do not be discouraged if you are not successful the first time around. As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again! Find out what you may need to work on and make a plan of action. You will gain useful experience of the application process, which will place you in good stead for your next opportunity.

For more information on entry to a specialist list and qualifying criteria, visit the GDC website here.



[1] General Dental Council, ‘Specialist lists’. [accessed 22.10.19]

[2] Health Education England (North West), ‘The Dental Gold Guide: A Reference Guide for Postgraduate Dental Specialty Training in the UK’. June 2016 (updated June 2018), [accessed 18.10.19].

[3] Royal College of Surgeons, ‘Studying for Postgraduate Dental Degree Courses in the UK’. [accessed 18.10.19].

[4] General Dental Council, ‘Enhanced CPD scheme 2018’. [accessed 28.11.19]

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