Sometimes you don’t know your own abilities until you’ve been tested.
Going to a new place and being with different people can lead to a fresh perspective and the chance to develop greater skills. Why stay in your comfort zone when the world can become your classroom?
When you think of studying dentistry, you probably don’t think of the Solomon Islands. This unusual mix came together when JCU Bachelor of Dental Surgery students travelled to the faraway country to do a placement. The journey was not only about learning skills, but also about providing dentistry services to communities and creating lasting memories.
Final-year dental surgery students travelled to the remote islands with South Australia-based dentist and JCU dental surgery graduate Dr Michael Robinson. Working alongside local oral health teams, the students built relationships, learnt how to adapt to different environments and developed cross-cultural understanding.
“The people were so friendly,” student Mathew Robertson says. “We visited a small village and the kids were climbing coconut trees, and they served us their local food. We played soccer with the kids, and they loved it.”
Senior Research Fellow and public health researcher Dr David MacLaren facilitated the trip to the Solomon Islands, which was the first for JCU dentistry. David has an interest in community health issues in remote areas of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. He says the responses from JCU’s partners in the Solomon Islands were overwhelmingly positive. Following this success, JCU is planning another trip in 2018.
“The World Health Organisation classifies the Solomon Islands as one of 57 countries deemed to have a critical shortage of health workers,” David says. “There is a workforce deficit across every level of care in the Solomon Islands, with one dentist per 100,000 people. JCU is pleased to be working with partners in the Solomon Islands to help deliver important dental services.”
Boosting skills and confidence
Having done dental outreach trips to the Cape and the Torres Strait, student Thomas Meath was already aware of the diversity of practice that comes with working in remote locations. Visiting the Solomon Islands has increased Thomas’s confidence and broadened his knowledge.
“We performed a lot of extractions, so we learnt a lot more about exodontia (the branch of dentistry that deals with the extraction of teeth),” he says. “We had to be resourceful, as they had limited equipment. We were generally a lot busier than we are in Australia due to the fact that the local dental team can only travel to the area every three months. We saw a lot more patients than we would generally see in an Australian setting. We learnt a lot from the dentists and staff there.”
This was student Marcus McShane’s first international travel experience. He has caught the travel bug and hopes he can undertake further international dentistry outreach work.
“The experience opened up my eyes to the world of possibilities that exist for dentists,” Marcus says. “Dentistry is a rewarding field, and there are opportunities for dentists to work in such a great variety of settings, so I’m really excited about graduating and getting out there and working.”
Gaining an understanding of the world and being immersed in another culture is an experience that Mathew will never forget. For other Bachelor of Dental Surgery students thinking about doing an international placement, he has some clear advice.
“Grab the opportunity with both hands,” Mathew says. “Getting out there and seeing how other countries do things is excellent for your development as a dentist. I learnt so much about dentistry that I don’t think I would have learnt here in Australia and I developed and progressed a lot in my final year because of the experience. If there is the opportunity to go overseas, especially to a developing country, definitely take it.”