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A Career in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery

Updated: Dec 21, 2019

The Melanin Medics Blog Series showcasing black Medical Professionals in various Medical Specialties. Sharing their journeys, challenges and life lessons. #RepresentationMatters. This week we're featuring a Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon: Dr Natasha Berridge!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey so far?

My name is Dr Natasha Berridge. As an Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon, I am dually qualified in both Medicine and Dentistry. In total, I spent 10 years at university achieving my intercalated BSc in Pharmacology, Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) and Bachelor of Medicine (BM). Following my foundation training, I commenced my core surgical training in London at Imperial NHS Healthcare Trust, subsequently gaining membership of the Royal College of Dental Surgery (MFDS) and Royal College of Surgery (MRCS). I was fortunate to secure my Higher Surgical training (ST3-ST7) in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery in North West London and completed my surgical training after becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Surgery; FRCS (OMFS). I then completed the prestigious Training Interface Group (TIG) Fellowship in Reconstructive Aesthetic Surgery.

I am on the GMC Specialist Register of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons and currently work as an NHS Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Consultant specialising in the management and reconstructive aesthetic treatment skin cancer. In addition, over the past years, I have developed my non-surgical speciality interest in facial aesthetics and have just been awarded a Masters’ Degree with Merit in Aesthetic Medicine & Skin Ageing (University of Manchester) where I also received the Outstanding Achievement Award for my postgraduate studies. After years of writing papers for peer reviewed scientific journals, co-authoring the internationally popular Primal Head & Neck DVD-Rom for Dentists/Dental Hygienists, I have recently become Resident Medical Specialist to online lifestyle magazine Salon Privé, where clients are able to enjoy reading updates on the latest trends in Health & Beauty.

Why did you choose this Specialty?

I’ve always been fascinated by the art of surgery and in particular facial anatomy. Given my background in Dentistry, pursuing a career in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery seemed like the most logical step to take. Without doubt, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery (OMFS) affords the opportunity to manage a diverse group of conditions that requires a high level of expertise in both soft and hard tissue handling.

During your time in Medical School, did you enjoy this specialty?

I became aware of the speciality of OMFS in the early years of my Dental degree at King’s College London. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent on placement with the Maxillofacial Surgeons and was sufficiently inspired to choose to spend my Elective with the Maxillofacial Unit at University College Hospital (UCLH), time which was well served as I was later awarded the AstraZeneca Elective Prize for an Oral Presentation detailing what I had learnt during my time with the Maxillofacial team at UCLH.

What is your greatest achievement till date?

That’s difficult to answer as I feel that all of my experiences to date have undoubtedly contributed to my lifetime goal of becoming a facial surgeon. It’s been a very long journey, not always easy and with unexpected personal life events along the way. However, the one trait that I believe has helped me through those years of gruelling surgical training is my resilience/tenacity. Even as a child, if I was told by others that I wouldn’t be able to do something, there negativity had the opposite effect and quite simply ignited a determination to prove the ‘nay-sayers’ wrong. I’ve always demanded the highest performance of myself at all times and have focused on the ‘end goal’ of becoming a surgeon. Twenty-three years later and wiser, I am now one of the small number of women of colour who are Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons in the United Kingdom.

What has been your biggest challenge working in this specialty so far?

Despite it being 2019, a handful of my patients and colleagues (young and old) are visibly surprised when I tell them that I am a Consultant Surgeon. Some feel that I don’t look old enough and commonly I’m assumed to be the nurse. Whatever their perceptions, unintentionally it’s a form of bias but I’ve learnt not to take offence to these comments. It’s great to be able to challenge the unconscious gender bias surrounding the way that people often think of surgeons; that they are “naturally” men. Surgery, in particular, OMFS is still very ‘male-dominated’ but I feel that it’s steadily changing. There are certainly more women, and especially women of colour completing higher surgical training that will eventually allow them to practice as an NHS Consultant.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend a lot of time at work, so I love nothing more than having family time and experiencing those precious life moments with my two younger sons and husband. I’ve also recently become quite the fan of hot yoga, which I find fabulous both for physical toning and emotional relaxation.

What advice would you give to someone interested in this specialty?

Surgery is tough and not for the faint hearted. Dedication, diligence and perseverance are an absolute must for those considering pursuing a career in surgery. Higher surgical training is intense and there have been many highs and lows. Fortunately, the highs have far outweighed the lows. Having patients trust me with their health and lives is a huge responsibility and privilege that I never take for granted. To perform life-enhancing corrective facial surgery is hugely rewarding. For those interested in pursuing a career in OMFS I would recommend spending time shadowing a Registrar in training by attending ward rounds, observing in theatre and outpatient clinics. If still interested, there are events held throughout the year that are sponsored by professional bodies such as the British Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery (BAOMS) that would give a fantastic insight into the scope of surgical practice in OMFS.

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