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Tanner Pachal (Canada)

When you come from a winter climate that can go as low as minus 40 degrees, making the choice to study somewhere warm and tropical seems like a dream. But it is not so easy when you have to move halfway around the world in pursuit of your future career.

For Tanner Pachal, the decision to relocate from Saskatchewan, a province in central western Canada, to study dentistry at James Cook University in Cairns, located in far northern Queensland in Australia, was definitely worth the distance.

“One of the reasons I picked JCU is the amazing amount of clinical hours that you just don't find in the US or Canada. In total, JCU prepares you with 2200 hours of clinical hands-on experience treating patients so you feel very work ready the minute you graduate,” said Tanner.

Another obvious benefit of studying dentistry in Australia as compared to Canada, is the time saved spent in studies. A reciprocal agreement between the two countries also means that dentists who graduate from an Australian dental school can apply to register as a dentist in Canada.

“In Australia, you can complete dentistry in five years compared to Canada where you have to do an undergraduate degree before doing a dentistry degree, so it can take up to eight years there. You can save a few years studying here in Australia and at JCU you get to study in the tropics, so overall it’s a pretty good gig,” said Tanner.

The clinical facilities offered at JCU Dentistry, including a state-of-the-art simulation clinic and an on-campus teaching dental clinic open to the public, also played a large part in Tanner’s decision.

“JCU has some of the best dental facilities in the country if not internationally,” said Tanner. “The facilities here are top notch. The dental school and clinic are relatively new so you’ll be treating patients with the best and newest equipment.”

The on-campus public dental clinic helps students to easily achieve their dental work quotas before graduating.

“After graduating I will have done almost 300 extractions, as an example, whereas in Canada you can graduate with only having a done a small fraction of that number, so there's a big difference to feeling confident and work-ready when you graduate.”

Another factor in Tanner’s decision to choose dentistry at JCU is its emphasis on serving rural and remote communities, and training a dental workforce with this purpose in mind.

“JCU has a focus on rural, remote and Indigenous practice and I come from a rural location in Canada with a culturally diverse community , so I thought it was quite fitting for myself especially as I plan to go and work back home,” said Tanner.

The opportunity in fifth year to practise clinical skills in placements throughout Australia provided Tanner with some amazing experiences, both professionally and personally.

“A lot of dental schools in Canada don't have a clinical residency year, but here at JCU we get a full year of supervised clinical work where we can refine our skills, where we are treating patients full-time,” said Tanner.

“I started my clinical residency year at the most southern tip of Australia with a four month placement in Hobart, Tasmania, and ended the year at the most northern point of Australia in the Torres Strait,” said Tanner.

“Working on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait was a unique experience which you can’t get from working in a city. The island services patients from the outer islands, so you get to see a broad range of different treatments and a lot of emergency patients. You also realise how much help is actually needed in these areas.”

One of the highlights of Tanner’s placement in the Torres Strait was the week he spent on a small island called Yam Island, with a population of around 300 people.

“The most eye opening experience was my week spent on Yam Island where they only have dentists visit every couple of years. I quickly realised the disparity between access to health care on these remote islands as compared to urban centres,” said Tanner.

“When I was there I was seeing up to 16 patients a day and we made sure that everyone received treatment. The clinic there had limited resources, so you have to learn to adapt to what’s available. You have to have an open mind when treating patients in different environments, and be open to any possibility that can come up.”

The novelty of having a Canadian student dentist on their tiny island was also a big hit with the locals.

“When I arrived everyone knew who I was and greeted me instantly as ‘the dentist’. I would go fishing with the kids on the wharf who would be catching their own dinner. Even though I went there to work in the clinic, I felt like I was on vacation the whole time on a beautiful tropical island. It was overall an amazing experience that I’ll never forget!”

Having just completed his final year and on the cusp of graduating from both his JCU and Canadian Dental Board exams, Tanner plans to head back to Canada to work in his home province of Saskatchewan. Overall, he regards the JCU Dentistry course and the hands-on experiences it offers, as making him especially employable no matter where he goes.

“Employers know we are work-ready as we have had so many different experiences treating patients and a really high volume of clinical hours. All the graduating students I speak to feel confident and ready to start their career. JCU is how all dental schools should be.”

JCU Dentistry was recently awarded a five-star rating for graduate employment.