As the son of a Cairns-based dentist, Joel grew up seeing the significant role of dentists in the local community. This inspiration, and his desire to help make a difference, led him to a Bachelor of Dental Surgery at JCU.
“A lot of my patients ask me why I chose to study dentistry. It’s tricky to answer without it sounding like a complete cliché, but I just really wanted to help people. Growing up I saw the difference my dad was making as a dentist, so I think that is where the interest has come from,” Joel says.
Improving access to dentists is an increasing priority for rural and remote communities across Australia. According to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council 2015 report, people living in regional and remote areas of Australia have poorer oral health than those living in major cities. Oral health status generally declines as remoteness increases. Not only do people living in rural areas have access to fewer dental practitioners, but longer travel times and limited travel options also exacerbate the problem. Joel says he became aware of this divide early on.
“I spent my early years in Kuranda and saw a bit of a health disparity there. That was my first exposure to the profession of dentistry and that early impression played a part,” Joel says.
Ready for rural dentistry
Now four years into the five-year dentistry degree, Joel is as passionate as ever about rural oral health. Along with his fellow third- and fourth-year students, Joel receives extensive clinical training at the JCU Cairns Dental Clinic on campus. Here, he can hone both his clinical skills and engage in effective patient communication.
“I have loved all my dentistry experiences. You never really know what you're going to get when it comes to dentistry, so every single day is different; different patients have different treatments, and you are always thinking on your feet. I just love the diversity.
“There’s been nothing but positive feedback for me through the clinic. I think patients are always overwhelmed by the service that is here. Thanks to our supervisors and clinicians, we can see a large number of patients and provide a range of services,” Joel says.
Next year, Joel and fellow final-year students will embark on their capstone rural placements. The capstone experience involves two 18-week rural placements at sites across Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmania. It brings together everything students have learned to date and prepares them to graduate as dental professionals.
Joel is keeping his options open for placement, but already has his eyes set on what he’ll be doing after he graduates.
“The plan after graduation is to stay in Cairns and work for my dad’s practice. It's important after graduation to get a mentor to show you the ropes, whether that is someone close to you or even a stranger," Joel says. "I know a lot of older dentists are happy to mentor younger ones in their practices.”