Dental students get a taste of surgery in the outback

Posted on November 8, 2013

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Learning while helping others: Dr Lavery and final year student Daniel Ang

The tiny, remote town of Robinvale in North-west Victoria is a long way from     La Trobe University’s Bendigo-based Dental School.

But for some final year dentistry students it played a significant role in their practical education when they took part in the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s (RFDS) mobile dental care program.

Fifth-year La Trobe University dental student Daniel Ang, spent two days helping in the Aboriginal clinics.

‘I was assisting some volunteer dentists that had flown up from Melbourne and spent two days with the Royal Flying Doctors as well, doing a lot of health promotion, health screening with children and high schools as well. I learnt so much.’

La Trobe volunteers

Experienced volunteer dentists including La Trobe clinical demonstrator Dr Daniel Lavery, travel in the RFDS mobile dental van to isolated townships. The University’s involvement in the initiative allows final year dentistry students like Anthony Ramzy to participate.

‘It was the first time we had done anything like that. It was really fulfilling and tested myself in different situations, rather than just the clinical setting, which we’ve been doing in the course.’

Dr Lavery agrees. He says students see people in a range of situations and from all socio-economic backgrounds, while observing and assisting experienced dentists.

‘You always learn from other people. Not just the clinical skills, but people management skills as well.’

Welcome addition in regions

The mobile dental clinic was launched in August last year and in partnership with the RFDS, the Victorian branch of the Australian Dental Association and Dental Health Service Victoria.

It is a welcome addition to parts of regional Victoria, like Robinvale, says Dr Lavery. Residents there have little access to dentists. The clinic operates one week out of every month.

Student Grace Campbell took part in oral health promotion and examinations on primary students from the town and found it a rewarding experience. She acknowledges there’s a need in the community for more such services.

Dr Lavery: giving dental students a taste of remote rural areas

A win for all

The mobile dental care program is a learning experience on many fronts, says Dr Lavery.

It gives La Trobe students a close look at what it might be like working in remote rural areas, where dentists are sorely needed, allows them practical experience and broadens their horizons.

And for the Robinvale community – being a part of the first-hand training of this next generation of La Trobe University dentists – it may result in some of these soon-to-be-dentists returning to work there and call the town home. – Catherine Garrett

Watch the video

See also:

Giving people a bigger say in rural health care

New dental teaching clinic