Community dental service--the first year.
In July 2000, the first group of graduates entered compulsory community dental service. The aim of this study was to document the experiences of the community dentists in their first year of placement. A cross-sectional, descriptive study was carried out among 171 community dentists. A structured questionnaire divided into nine sections: demography, the allocation process, accommodation and living conditions, dental clinic facilities--equipment and materials, work environment, income, sense of achievement, intellectual fulfillment. Thirty five per cent of the sample responded. Of the respondents 54% could speak the local language; almost half (45%) felt that the allocation process was not handled efficiently and 40% said that they needed more information; 60% were placed within 20 km of the nearest town; 26% did not have access to telephone or fax and only 52% were provided with accommodation. Twenty six per cent described the condition of the clinics as poor. Almost a quarter of the respondents indicated that they did not have full sets of instruments. Ten per cent did not have an autoclave nor a high-speed handpiece. Fifty seven per cent did not have oxygen and half the clinics did not have any emergency equipment. Fifty per cent reported that equipment broke down often and an equal number that it was not fixed promptly. More than 90% indicated that they needed a short course to help with repairs. Almost two-thirds said that they enjoyed their work environment. Fifty three per cent had supervision, but 30% felt that they did not need supervision. Although 75% felt that their professional competence had been enhanced, more than three-quarters indicated that they had lost some of their clinical competence in one or other area. While 58% felt that there were many opportunities to improve clinical skills, almost two thirds felt that they were over-skilled for the job. Three-quarters of the respondents indicated that the year had been fulfilling and worthwhile. Problem areas centred around the adequacy of the information provided, accommodation and breakdown of equipment. With the next community service placement, it would be useful if the experiences and lessons of the first year could be taken into account.