New crop of graduates arrives in the bush

CSU graduate Mr Jake Ball
CSU graduate Mr Jake Ball

Last month marked a significant milestone as the new crop of dentistry graduates from Charles Sturt University in New South Wales and James Cook University in Cairns complete their degrees. Both schools were established in 2009 to address the shortage of dentists in regional and remote areas.

“The Charles Sturt University dentistry program was created in collaboration with rural dental health experts and the help of the wider profession in response to a real need for dental services in rural and regional Australia,” said CSU Vice Chancellor and President Professor Andrew Vann.

“Australians living in rural areas deserve the same access to dental health services as people living in the cities. We’re looking forward to seeing this graduating class, and those in the future, play their part in ensuring the health and wellbeing of our rural communities.”

32 new dentists graduated from CSU in Orange, while 53 graduated in Queensland.

Professor Andrew Sandham of James Cook University says it was no coincidence the dental school was built in Far North Queensland and it’s an experiment that’s already paying dividends, with almost half the first cohort of graduates planning to practice in rural and remote areas.

“The waiting lists for dentistry were enormous in this part of the world, and the admissions to hospitals for children, the majority of those admissions were for dental reasons, for general anaesthesia, for multiple extractions, so this is something we had to do something about.”

Australian Dental Association NSW Branch CEO Dr Matthew Fisher was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Health Studies at the Charles Sturt University ceremony in recognition of his work in supporting the establishment of the CSU dentistry program, and in advancing the cause of rural and regional oral health.

Dr Fisher, who lectures in the program on professionalism and compliance, said, “These graduates, and those that follow them, will help ensure better access to quality dental services throughout rural and regional Australia. I hope they go on to have successful careers as professionals, but also to make significant contributions to the communities they will serve.”

CSU graduate Mr Jake Ball, originally from Broken Hill, will be one of two dental interns to work at the CSU Dental Clinic in Orange next year and said his long-term goal was to practice in a rural area.

“It’s a different style of dentistry in the country,” Mr Ball said.

“In the city there are so many practices that they have to try to distinguish themselves in a business sense. It’s about who is open later at night, or what ancillary services they can add on. But in the country it feels more like real dentistry. It’s about the patient, and the quality of service.”

Declan Collins and CJ Richter are two of the JCU dentists who have chose to start their careers in the bush; they’re heading to Barcaldine and Goondiwindi. Others in the graduating group are bound for Alice Springs, Stanthorpe, St George, Tully and Proserpine.

And while once being ‘posted’ to such far-flung locations would be regarded as something a young graduate had to do, they’re clear it’s where they want to be.

“It’s a different sort of work. It’s really the people who haven’t had access to good dental care for so long and the work we do is so beneficial to the community and we can see the changes that we make,” CJ explained.

Declan Collins couldn’t be happier to be heading to a small western Queensland town that’s been without a dentist.

Mr Ball said his experiences as a CSU student providing oral health services with the Royal Flying Doctor Service would stand out among his memories of his time at the University.

“We visited communities like Collarenebri, Bourke, Lightning Ridge, and Goodooga, where the facilities weren’t as advanced and many patients had oral health issues that hadn’t been recently addressed,” he said.

“It was a great experience, and a great opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.”

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  1. There is no evidence to show that there is a shortage of dentists in rural areas. In fact, recently more than 100 unemployed dentists applied for a position in Mareeba indicating the oversupply of graduates and their willingness to go anywhere for a job.
    Producing more graduates will not reduce the hospital admissions of children as suggested by Andrew Sandham because these admissions are a result of parental neglect and not a shortage of dentists. The fact is that despite free dental care and even the provision of free transport to and from the clinic, these patients do not show up for appointments if they are not in pain.
    The acute shortage of qualified dental academics in Australia means that at James Cook University (for example) dental undergraduates are mainly trained by overseas qualified dentists who can’t obtain registration in Australia and who can be in very senior positions despite a lack of teaching experience and a lack of any postgraduate qualifications.
    The motivation for the newer rural and remote dental schools should be questioned as should be the quality of their education.


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