JCU dentists take action against domestic violence
A first-of-its-kind program at James Cook University has produced the first group of dentistry graduates trained to recognise and respond to signs of domestic violence.
Dentists have traditionally received little training in the area, despite the fact many domestic violence related injuries involve damage to teeth. The College of Medicine and Dentistry, in collaboration with JCU’s Social Work academics and the Cairns Domestic Violence Service, has developed a new program aiming to address this knowledge and skill gap.
The ‘Domestic Violence: recognise, respond and refer’ program is the first of its kind in Australia, and began in 2015 when students completing clinical placements in regional, rural and remote locations reported feeling out of their depth when presented with patients who showed signs of domestic violence. The first group to receive the specialist training at JCU has now begun work in the community.
“I had a number of students writing reflective pieces about situations with patients who had experienced domestic violence,” said Dr Felicity Croker, a senior lecturer in dentistry at JCU. “It became evident to me that we needed some educational intervention.”
Dr Croker asked JCU social work Lecturer Dr Ann Carrington to help her develop a program for the dentistry students. The pair approached the CEO of the Cairns Regional Domestic Violence Service Amanda Lee Ross, who has worked in the field for more than 15 years.
Dr Carrington said the involvement of the domestic violence service was essential.
“Not only in terms of their continued work in that space, but it’s important for the students to be able to see and meet the local services that they would potentially be referring to.”
The ‘Domestic Violence: recognise, respond and refer’ program provides students with tools to discuss domestic violence matters sensitively and skilfully with patients, and to respond and refer them to other services.
Amanda Lee Ross says the program fills an important gap in service provision for people experiencing domestic and family violence.
“I’ve delivered a lot of training to other professionals who may come into contact with people experiencing domestic or family violence – such as doctors and nurses – but the one group of people we’d never had any contact with was dentists. So, when I got that call, I was really excited about it, and very happy to be involved. It makes total sense: we see people experiencing facial injuries, and I’ve lost count of the number of clients who lost teeth because of the violence.”
Over 200 dentistry students now participate in the educational program annually, which includes a series of workshops in preparation for clinical practice.
Sessions cover the prevalence of domestic and family violence; role-play scenarios to help students find the right words to ask patients the right questions, while being mindful of not blaming a victim of violence; and non-verbal cues – such as not sitting behind a patient, or standing over them in the chair – that can help to ease anxieties, and promote honest conversations.
“We’re not expecting them to be counsellors; that’s not their role,” says Amanda Lee Ross. “It’s about people being comfortable to call it when they see it – but also to do that in the right way.
“Most people don’t like going to the dentist, but this cohort of people may be anxious for a different reason, and that’s to do with what they’ve experienced at the hands of somebody else. I’m really excited by such a program as this: it’s exciting, it’s different and we’re leading the way.”
Students Casey Townsend, Winson Chan and William Shield have completed a two-year research project about the program and joined JCU staff to present their research at several conferences in Australia and internationally.
Mr Chan says he has found the program useful. “All things come with practise. If I get some hands-on experience, and more preparation for it, I would be more inclined to talk to the patient about it. It’s the same as doing a filling - the first time, it was quite daunting, then after a couple of times, it became normal.”
Dr Croker says the program has generated interest from a number of dentistry schools and industry organisations.
“Our goal is to share our knowledge about this important area as widely as we can. We hope to work with the dentistry community to provide practicing dentists with access to this vital knowledge about the role of dentists in supporting patients who are experiencing domestic or family violence.”
For help with domestic or family violence, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
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For interview requests: Carlie Sage. JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry Communications Coordinator.
M: 0437 263 399