Healthcare Science Week – let’s meet Naomi, principal maxillofacial prosthetist

Thursday 14th March 2024

Healthcare Science Week – let’s meet Naomi, principal maxillofacial prosthetist

What’s your name, role and where you work?
My name is Naomi Sweeney and I am a principal maxillofacial prosthetist working in the prosthetics department at Queen Victoria Hospital. Our department provides assessment, device treatment and ongoing prosthetic support for patients that require an artificial ear, nose, eye, jaw (obturator) or section of face. The department also treats patients who need head/neck pressure therapy splints for the management of post-burn scarring.

Describe a day in the life of your role?
We design, manufacture and fit custom medical devices, such as silicone facial prostheses, titanium cranioplasty (the surgical repair of a bone defect in the skull resulting from a previous operation or injury) implants, and intra-oral devices. Due to the wide variety of appliances we produce, no two days are the same. I could be painting eyes, sculpting wax, colour-matching silicone, seeing patients in clinic, digital 3D planning and printing, attending theatre or making splints to hold the jaws together in the correct position following trauma. There is also a proportion of my time dedicated to education and training, as we currently have two trainees in the department and are hoping to take another towards the end of the year.

What do you enjoy most about the role?
It’s very rewarding to help rehabilitate patients and help to restore their appearance or function, such as speech and swallowing. The type of devices we make can have a big impact on patients’ quality of life and mental health, giving them the confidence to return to everyday life and see friends and family with less anxiety about their appearance. I really enjoy the variety of the role.

Prior to going into this profession, I studied fine art and then media make-up, so I do tend to enjoy the more artistic aspects of the job the most, such as making silicone facial prostheses.

What was the career path to the position you’re in now?
Whilst I was studying media make-up at college, we visited the dental technology department at Manchester Metropolitan University to make some prosthetic teeth for a project. The lecturer there used to work as a maxillofacial prosthetist before going into teaching. Before that, I didn’t even know this profession existed, but he was so enthusiastic and passionate about it, by the end of the week I had decided to pursue a career as a maxillofacial prosthetist and applied for the dental technology degree, which is required prior to undertaking further training.

What is your biggest achievement to date?
Probably going to university and then going on to complete my Master’s degrees. Nobody in my family has ever been to university and there were a lot of aspects that were quite daunting including the application process, finances, would I be able to manage that level of study etc. Currently this is the only route into our profession, but for many reasons, going to university isn’t an option for everyone. It’s nice to see other specialties are now offering apprenticeships and hope this is something our profession will embrace in the future.

What qualities or interests do you need to do your role?
As well as a degree of artistic creativity, you need to have an interest in science and technology, meticulous attention to detail, the ability to work under pressure and solve problems and good interpersonal skills.