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Shivani Patel is keen to show that dentistry is a profession which is varied and flexible.
Shivani Patel is passionate about dentistry and has been speaking to schoolgirls at careers fairs and schools in her area about what a good profession it is for women. “It’s very flexible, the hours are good and it’s much more than chilling and filling now,” she says.
Shivani is a partner in the award-winning elleven dental surgery, a highly specialist luxury dental and orthodontics practice in London which offers patients, including Emma Watson and Sadie Frost, state-of-the-art treatment. Her career has been very varied, ranging from research to doing work with a charity in Uganda, and being a partner gives her the flexibility to develop a portfolio of skills.
She, her husband Samir and her business partner Anthony Lamb bought elleven in 2010. At the time it had just two staff. They have built it into a sought-after multi-specialist five-surgery practice with 12 clinicians. Twenty per cent of their patients come from abroad. It was the first UK practice to operate the Sure Smile scanner which reduces treatment for teeth straightening by up to nine months. Shivani says the practice was picked to trial the technology in the UK because it was “fresh and versatile”. “We use braces on the inside and outside of teeth and were amenable to change. We also have a large number of adult patients who want shorter treatment periods,” she says.
Shivani puts in the most hours at elleven since the other two partners also work at other practices. She is responsible for training staff and more of the everyday aspects of the business as well as clinical work. Shivani, who is trained to consultant level, spends three days a week on clinical work and lectures at Guy's Hospital and the Royal London Hospital as well as training dental assistants at the University of Central Lancashire. In addition, she is editor of a dental journal, which, along with administrative duties, she can do from home.
Born and raised in Kenya, Shivani came to London in 1995 as an international student at Guy's Hospital. She spent five years at dental school, three years qualifying to be an orthodontist and three more to be a consultant. During those years she worked in the community, for instance, in jails and old people’s homes and in a hospital on surgery for oral cancer and facial reconstruction. For her masters thesis she researched physiological differences in men and women in relation to sleep apnoea, a life-threatening disorder which results in loud snoring and sleeplessness. Her research looked at ways to treat sleep apnoea, including a brace which pushes the jaw forwards so that the patient’s tongue does not block their airway and stop them breathing. She offers the treatment at elleven and several sleep centres in London refer patients to her as a result.
Her research won her the European Orthodontic Society’s prestigious William Houston Award for the best European research and a Fellowship in Orthodontics from the Royal College of Surgeons. The award included a travel scholarship and she used it to go on a three-week aid mission with Christian Relief Uganda and seven other dentists to bring dentistry to people living on the islands of Lake Victoria. The group treated 1,500 adults and children during their mission. “We were mainly taking out teeth, but people had not seen dentists or doctors for 25 years because of myths about cannibalism on the islands so they would come to us with conditions like conjunctivitis and coughs and colds and we had antibiotics so could treat them,” she says. The mission had a big impact on Shivani and she and her husband still do small scale work in Kenya when they visit once a year.
Just after she qualified as a consultant Shivani had her daughter who is now four. She took five months’ maternity leave and, although she enjoyed working in the NHS, it was undergoing a lot of upheaval at the time so it seemed a good time to explore private practice. She and her partners acquired elleven and she initially worked there two days while doing locum work at a hospital. When demand started to grow for elleven she gave up her other work and focused on the practice and admits she and her husband had to work long hours to build up the business. Her daughter went to nursery, but sometimes Shivani would have to bring her into work, for instance, if she couldn’t go to nursery. “You cannot cancel 32 patients at short notice,” says Shivani, adding that staff would look after her in the back office while she worked. Since her daughter has started school, the family have hired an au pair.
In 2012, Shivani was nominated for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and was a runner up. This meant she was automatically registered for the Inspirational Women’s Group which sends women out to be role models in the south Asian community. She gave talks at various schools and gives school students work experience at elleven, ensuring that they spend time with clinicians. Shivani also coaches them about applying to dental school.
She has also been keen to be involved in charitable work following her Uganda experience and the practice currently supports the cleft charity, Smile Train. The whole practice is entered for a five kilometre charity run for Smile Train in the summer when they will also be going to Downing Street to meet Samantha Cameron.
Shivani says she is keen to develop the business more. The partners are currently looking at opening a satellite practice in the suburbs nearer their home which would be more family-based. Shivani is also offering continuous professional development evenings every few months to dentists in the vicinity of the main practice to educate them in orthodontics.
She says in her career she has been most influenced by two female orthodontists who trained her as a postgraduate. “Both had children while they were training and are quite well known in the orthodontics world. They are both very ethical and rose to consultant level in a profession where there are few women at that level. And they’ve managed to have a successful work life balance. That’s what I would like to emulate,” she says. She already seems well on her way.