During the last two years at dental school, we were assigned dental laboratory technicians to supervise us as we struggled to learn how to make acrylic dentures and gold crowns. Mr K was my crown technician. A friendly man, he used to listen to the problems that we encountered when trying to treat patients and, simultaneously, to deal with the often fussy and (necessarily) pedantic clinical tutors. Before any conversation could begin with with Mr K, the student would have to visit the canteen (two floors down) to fetch a cup of coffee for him and another for the student. Goodness knows how many litres of milky coffee entered Mr K during his working day.
When the number of days before qualifying began shortening rapidly, my fellow students and I began to look for practices where we could commence practising dentistry at last. One morning Mr K said to me that there was a dentist, Mr L, in the Medway Towns, who was looking for a newly-qualified associate. I had never visited the Medway Towns, which are about 80 kilometres south-east of London. A trip to the ‘country’ sounded attractive, and, who knows, I might have been offered a job. Actually, although surrounded by lovely countryside, the Medway Towns are far from rustic.
On the day before my interview, my father told me that Mr L had cancelled the appointment. I was saddened briefly, until my father told me that Mr L had said that Mr M, whose practice was in another part of the Medway Towns, was also looking for an associate. I rang Mr M, who asked me to visit him the next day.
Mr M turned out to be delightful. I knew that if he wanted me, I would enjoy working in his practice. He offered me the job instantly. I worked happily in his practice for eleven years until for practical reasons it became necessary for me to work in London.
Just after qualifying, one of my patients at Mr M’s practice asked me how long I had been a dentist. Not wanting to risk alarming the patient by revealing that it was less than a month since I had qualified, I answered: “I have been working in London for the last five years”. In dentistry, you need to think on your feet.
As I was leaving the practice to return to London after my interview, Mr M handed me a bottle of Scotch whisky. He said: “Give this to Mr K when you next see him.”
I did as I was instructed. When I spoke to a fellow student who had been directed to a practice by Mr K, I learned that a bottle of Scotch was Mr K’s fee or commission for finding associates for dentists who knew him.
I doubt that there are many employment agents or ‘head hunters’ that charge employers as little as the cost of a bottle of Scotch.