Trainee barbers, trainee dentists.
Same same, but different.
Having recently moved into Central London, I was left totally lost (i.e. barber-less).
First world problems, I know…
My old regular barbershop was a place in Staines, a small town just West of London where I used to live. My regular barber was an Algerian bloke called Jamal. Jamal had been cutting my hair ~every 3 weeks for the past 7 years, so you can imagine how familiar we were around each other.
We had established that customer-barber relationship that most of the lads reading this will know about too. I’m sure the same is also true for girls of course, who have a regular hairdresser.
I knew him well, he knew me well. We would talk about football, family, politics, gym, girls and all things in between.
And sometimes if I was tired or not up for a conversation, he’d pick up on that vibe and just cut my hair with little chat. He could read me like that; pick up on cues from my body language that you can only do if you know each other (even if it’s just in a barbershop setting).
One time I went for a trim and the heavens opened – it started pouring down with rain. He finished cutting my hair and it was still crazy heavy rain, so he offered to close the shop just for a brief while and drive me home. I respectfully declined and got my brother to come pick me up, but the point is that he was willing to do that for me and lose potential business to make sure I got home without drowning in the rain.
And on many occasions, I’d have forgotten to bring my wallet and he would trust me enough to leave without paying for the cut and just settle it the next time I’d go for a cut.
I’m not the kind of guy who experiments with my hairstyle, I know what works for me and I stick to it: short back and sides (grade 1 fade), scissor cut kept fairly long on top. Jamal knows my style too, so there soon became no need for me to describe to him what I wanted done – I’d just sit in the chair and he’d get started with the clippers.
Trusting someone with a pair of scissors/clippers is not something that happens overnight, you need to build up that loyalty, trust and friendship through regular visits. There were a lot of other barbers working in that same shop, but I always preferred to wait until Jamal was free. He was my guy.
There is always that odd occasion when you have to let someone else cut your hair, and in my experiences they’d always butcher it somehow.
I could count on Jamal to always keep me looking fresh, the lid was always on point.
It’s one of those little things you take for granted. And after moving into London, it doesn’t make sense for me to travel all the way back west for my haircuts. Jamal, if you’re reading this, I miss you bro.
I moved into Central London just before Christmas (2016), was overdue a haircut in early January and needed to get it tidied up before the new term started. So I began looking around my local area for a barbers, there are plenty of places but none that compared.
Jamal used to charge me £7 per cut, and every 7th haircut was free! Unfortunately you’d be lucky to find anyone decent willing to cut hair in London for under £15 and I’m a student with little money to spare!
I’d heard about The London School of Barbering (LSB) from friends. Many of my friends had been before me to get their lids fixed by the trainee barbers at LSB, and they all recommended it.
So I decided to go and check it out myself.
According to their website, LSB do accept the odd walk-in, but the proper way to do it is go onto their website and book a haircut slot at one of their two London branches for a time and date that suits you.
They’ve got two training academies; one in the Barbican/Farringdon area, right beside Smithfield Meat Market and the other is on Drury Lane in Covent Garden.
I booked an evening slot at the Farringdon branch and had my haircut by a trainee called Natasha on my first visit. It was an evening slot at 7pm, so its also a good place to go for those of you Londoners reading this who are generally busy during the day with work/university.
I sat in the chair and immediately could see just by looking at Natasha in the mirror, how nervous she was – in fact, she didn’t really seem to even know how to start! But with lots of guidance from the “educator” – she managed to clean my lid up ok. Having said that, I’d be lying if I said I was super happy with the end result after that first haircut. But was good enough, so I left content – especially since you have to remind yourself it was free!
Although I was assigned to nervous Natasha, don’t get me wrong – looking around, many of the other trainee barbers seemed to be a lot more confident in their abilities and it showed in the haircuts they were doing. So there’s also a huge luck factor involved – you might get assigned to a good trainee, you might get a not so good trainee. Either way, you won’t with a butchered haircut because the educators are on hand to tidy up the trainee’s mistakes.
When you build that trust with someone you visit regularly, you sit in their chair and are instantly at ease. You feel relaxed and have confidence in your barber’s ability to provide a service you are happy with.
It’s not so easy to build the same trust you’d have with a regular barber that you do if you go to LSB. Why? Well, because you get your haircut by a different trainee each time – by someone you’ve never met before!
So it struck me after having now been to LSB, how similar it is to dental school!
In fact, dentistry and barbery are really similar professions in many respects. And that’s why I thought this would make a really interesting topic to write about!
LSB delivers >1000 haircuts per week!
At dental school, the students offer treatment to thousands of patients each week too!
When dental students see patients, they work under the supervision of clinical tutors who roam the clinic and guide the students as they deliver treatment to patients who do not have to pay for the service.
The equivalent of clinical tutors at LSB are what they call, the “educators”. These individuals are fully qualified and highly experienced barbers who have cut countless lads’ hair and so are able to supervise the trainees.
If a dental student isn’t sure what to do next, they can call the tutor over to get help. Same thing happens at LSB, the educator will come over, take the clippers off the trainee and show them how to do it!
And because LSB/dental school are learning environments, the appointments are longer than the duration for a ‘regular’ visit to a qualified barber/dentist.
Typically an appointment with a dental student can be up to 3 hours in duration, even if it’s just for the simplest of procedures whereas an NHS dentist working under pressure from their practice principal, their long patient list and UDA targets might only see you for 20 minutes… Likewise, an LSB haircut will last ~90 minutes, whereas a proper barber could do the same job in ~25 minutes.
In a previous post, where I discussed my family history in dentistry, I talked about Nasser, my great grandfather. Nasser began his career working as a barber/”tooth specialist”. He would cut hair, extract teeth – whatever you wanted. But he began to enjoy the teeth more than the hair and so travelled to Istanbul, Turkey where he formally trained as a dentist before moving back to Iraq and setting up his own dedicated dental surgery. Nasser was (one of) the first official dentists in Iraq!
So historically, the two professions are very intimately linked. At the basic level, they both require a strong level of manual dexterity.
I’m so glad I’ve now discovered LSB. Moving forward, it will be where I come every 3-4 weeks to get a free haircut and offer my hair to help someone train as a barber. So if you’re a London lad reading this, why not give them a try!
The experience has also made me appreciate how important it is for the trainees to be able to train on real people, just as it is for us dental students to be able to treat actual patients in need of care. I wouldn’t be able to qualify as a dentist without the patients who come into the dental school to get treatment by us students. Apart from it being free, that’s one of the main reasons why I will continue to go back and offer my hair to help someone learn the art/skill.
Clients/Patients go to these training institutes knowing that they will have longer appointments so need to have patients and faith. You might not get the same quality of service that a qualified professional could offer, but you’ve consciously made the decision to go.
Another thing the experience has done is made me hyper aware of how important it will be for me to be confident in my abilities when I begin seeing patients in June 2017. That means I need to pay attention to everything I’m taught and practice in the clinical skills labs as much as possible now.
Being able to put the patients at ease will be so crucial for delivery of care. I don’t want any of my patients to ever feel uneasy, uncomfortable or nervous as a direct result of them having no confidence in me as their care provider.
As dentists, we will be seeing the same patients on multiple occasions, so building trust and a good solid professional relationship is key. This will also in turn lead to the building up of a good a patient-list, that will grow through word of mouth recommendations! Just in the same way that I got recommended to LSB by a friend, and am now recommending LSB to all of you 🙂
The title of this feature is: Same Same, But Different.
A perfectly fitting title because despite being so similar, there is one fundamental difference I must highlight between cutting hair and dental treatment:
- Hair grows back – whatever the barber does, in a few weeks time it will be ready for another cut.
- Teeth don’t grow back – once you’ve drilled into a tooth, that’s it. That tooth tissue will not regenerate itself naturally.
So as a trainee barber, you aren’t under that ‘pressure’ to get it exactly right as we as trainee dentists are.
Not just that, patients will come back and see the same dental student for the duration of their treatment, unlike at LSB where its a different trainee barber each time!
Anyway, that’s it for this feature. I have spoken about a specific example of LSB, which is what I get exposed to as a Londoner, but I’m sure there are many similar barbering schools across the country and around the world.
Thanks for reading 🙂