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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

3 August 2022

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Student to Teacher: 'on the other side of the fence'

For JCU Dentistry graduates, there’s a wide world of professional opportunities working across the clinic, academia and research. Just ask Dr Sai Pabbati, who has already immersed himself in all three roles in his new job at JCU.

Dr Pabbati shares  what he loves about his new role at JCU Dentistry and how it is helping him make a three-fold contribution to oral health in regional and rural Queensland.

Hailing from Bundaberg in Central Queensland, Dr Pabbati intended to work in a regional area after graduating last year, but he hadn’t confirmed any plans when he saw JCU advertise for the position of Graduate Dental Practitioner.

“I never thought I'd end up in Cairns for any number of years, to be honest!” Dr Pabbati says, “Coming into graduation, I saw JCU had advertised the role and I thought it would be a good fit.”

Dr Pabbati combines the clinical role of a dentist — seeing patients for procedures such check-ups, fillings, extractions and root canal treatments — and the educator role of instructing and supervising third- and fourth-year students during clinical training.

"The variety is what attracted me to the role. It's not only the daily routine as a dentist; it's the role in academia, in research and teaching, and on top of that the public relations and community roles. You're always kept on your toes, and I think that's great!" Dr Pabbati says.

Dr Pabbati and fourth-year JCU Dentistry student, Michael.
Dr Sai Pabbati at UniX Cairns
Left: Dr Pabbati explaining the elements of an x-ray to fourth-year dental student Michael Atta. Right: Dr Pabbati working on a demonstration as part of the UniX Senior event in Cairns.

Going to the roots of dentistry in providing vital oral health care

After being a student just months earlier, Dr Pabbati says he is frequently asked what life is like ‘on the other side of the fence’, joining his former teachers as a colleague.

"It's kind of surreal ‘on the other side’. It was daunting, working with my old professors and teachers. You'd imagine they'd still feel like they need to have responsibility over you — the 'training wheels' — but they've shown a lot of trust in me,” Dr Pabbati says. “At the same time, the faculty is still really supportive and here for me if I have any questions. That’s been fantastic for my development.”

After the daunting beginning, Dr Pabbati is now seeing more of the benefits he can provide to students by having so recently been in their position.

"For me, it's really easy to relate to students, knowing what they're going through because I was in their position not long ago. I think that gives good insight for me as a supervisor, knowing what they might need to hear, to provide assurance and build their confidence,” Dr Pabbati says.

"Teaching is a really good way for you to continue learning as well. When you’re explaining things to students it deepens your understanding and breadth of knowledge as well. That's something really special about this position."

The JCU Dental Clinics in Townsville and Cairns are vital parts of the provision of accessible health care in the North and Far North of Queensland. Since JCU’s Dental School was launched in 2009, over 80,000 patients have received care at the clinics. While service is open to all members of the community, it is of particular assistance to pension card holders who might not otherwise be able to afford certain dental care.

“The work at the clinic, for me, is going to the roots of what dentistry as a health care profession is all about: providing important services to those who need them. It's really fulfilling work and I'm grateful for the opportunity JCU has given me,” Dr Pabbati says.

Dr Sai Pabbati (third from the right) with fellow graduates.

Research for communities of the North

In addition to his clinical and academic roles, Dr Pabbati is kept busy with his Honours Project. Flowing from his passion to provide dental services to underserved communities, Dr Pabbati is investigating the incidence and causes of oral and maxillofacial trauma in regional Australia.

“There’s a lot of research on how all these kinds of facial traumas occur, but not how they’re disproportionately affecting rural areas. It’s not just awareness, but also seeing if we can find ways to prevent such devastating forms of injury,” Dr Pabbati says.

All three elements of Dr Pabbati’s work combine to give the young dentist a lot of job satisfaction as he daily sees the impact he is making.

“In this role, I feel you get to cast a wide net in terms of the number of people you can help. It’s not only the 10 or so patients I see a day, it’s the students and their patients, and hopefully the wider region in terms of research. JCU is the perfect conduit for this broad impact,” Dr Pabbati says.

Dr Pabbati is part of the approximately 70 per cent of JCU Dentistry graduates who go on to work in regional, rural and remote communities. Hear about how final-year Dentistry students, like Sowmya Bolla, are discovering a love for rural oral health through the JCU capstone placement experience.

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