From braces to Dentist

Wed, 5 Feb 2020

Getting braces is not generally a highpoint of childhood, but for new JCU Dentistry Graduate Cameron Suley, it would have a lasting impact.

“I got orthodontics as a kid and being around the dental field sparked my interest,” Cameron said.

“I also saw the impact that changing people’s teeth can make. Seeing what a difference fixing someone’s teeth can have for their wellbeing is amazing.”

A proud Aboriginal man from Toowoomba in regional Queensland, Cameron was the first in his family to go to university. He chose Dentistry at James Cook University (JCU) because he was keen to study in a regional centre and learn more about the tropics.

He also wanted to gain experience in rural and remote dentistry, not just city-based practice.

“The Dentistry program at JCU has a strong emphasis on rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Rural clinical placements were very much part of the course.

“I enjoyed those experiences. We got a lot of clinical time, which has given us an advantage over graduates from other universities.”

The desire to experience work and life outside metropolitan areas took Cameron to the most northern end of Australia for a clinical placement on Thursday Island in the remote Torres Strait.

“It’s helped me as a dentist having that kind of experience, working with the community and being able to help and give back.”

“It’s important that health practitioners develop an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and understand where people are coming from,” Cameron said.

“Because of the cultural differences some things that you do may come across as offensive and you don't even know.

“We had cultural training on Thursday Island, which was a great experience. It ensured that we could practice in a culturally safe way.”

Those placements have also affected his plans for the future.

“I'm applying for positions in public health in regional and remote areas. I feel you can spend more time with patients in the public system and give back to the community. You also get quite a variety and wider scope in your dental practice.

“I see myself as going to a regional or rural area. One with a community vibe where I can have ongoing relationships with patients and their families.”

Achieving his goal to become a dentist hasn’t always been easy, but Cameron said he’s had the full support of his family… and the University. He believes that was particularly important when the going got tough.

“You have the support of the officers at the Indigenous Education Unit, who always check in to see how your studies are going. You also have the support of the lecturers and year coordinators. Everyone was very friendly.

“Any time I had an issue or a problem I could email or phone any of the JCU staff and they were there to help,” he said.

“There were a few times when I had some ups and downs and I took a semester off. But now I've got to the end. The thing is to keep going.”

It’s a message he’s keen to pass on to others as he reflects on his experiences and prepares to farewell study and embark on his career.

“If you set your mind to do something, you will finish it in the end. As long as you're committed and don't give up, you'll be fine.”