Award for dentistry student who puts a smile into Cherbourg

David Baker receiving his award on Wednesday night.

A student volunteer who coordinates emergency dental care in the Queensland Aboriginal community of Cherbourg has won a prestigious national health award.

David Baker, a dentistry student at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, is the winner of the 2012 Award for Outstanding Contribution to Indigenous Communities sponsored by Rural Health Workforce and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).

David has been involved in the emergency dental clinic project since 2011, through his university rural health club Hope4Health. He organises four trips a year to Cherbourg for 10 students and a supervising dentist.

They provide care to the local community who otherwise do not have access to dentistry services and are in chronic pain and discomfort.

The program is delivered in partnership with Barambah Regional Medical Health Service which provides facilities and accommodation for the students.

“We take portable dental chairs with us and convert their nursing rooms into four dental surgeries,” explains David. “I do it because for me it’s something I can give back to the community and I absolutely love it.”

The clinic is something of a personal mission for David, who is a descendant of the Yuggera and Biri Gubba people. Before taking up dentistry, David was an Aboriginal health worker doing hearing tests for children at Brisbane South. He went on to become a principal program advisor with Queensland Health for Indigenous HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and sexual health.

David and his younger brother Michael both study at Griffith University’s School of Dentistry. The world of health has been a major part of the Baker brothers’ lives since childhood. The Brisbane youngsters were regularly found by their mother’s side helping out as she launched Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander health promotions in her role as Queensland Health’s Regional Director for Indigenous Health.

As well as the work of their mother and grandmother, David and Michael’s older brother, Chris was a clinical pioneer as Australia’s first Indigenous ophthalmologist.

David says the Cherbourg clinic is a great way for Griffith students to broaden their skills and gain positive experience in Indigenous health.

“They benefit and so do the community. It’s a fantastic outcome and it shows the value of rural health clubs in giving students professional development opportunities,” he says.

Hope4Health is one of 29 university rural health clubs that belong to the National Rural Health Students Network supported by Rural Health Workforce (RHW). David was presented with his award at the network’s National University Rural Health Conference in Creswick, Victoria, last week.

RHW CEO Greg Sam praised David for his commitment to the cause of Indigenous health. “David is a great role model for his peers. We need more people like him in order to meet the health needs of local communities.”

The Chair of NACCHO, Justin Mohamed, says David’s leadership is inspirational. “The clinic project is very important to the wellbeing of the people of Cherbourg. We are delighted to see students like David get involved in Aboriginal health because it helps us build the workforce of the future.”



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