Following her experience with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), TOOTH (The Outback Oral Treatment and Health) Program and witnessing its value for people in rural and remote communities, Jessica has strengthened her resolve “to be the best dentist I can be for Outback Australia”
Jessica’s four-week clinical rotation in Dubbo saw her providing dental services to the Dubbo community at the CSU Dental and Oral Health Clinic and also flying in and out to remote communities from the RFDS Dubbo Base. Jessica acknowledges that before starting her degree, she was unaware of the poor dental standards in Outback Australia, but after witnessing it herself back in 2011, she was inspired to strive towards closing the gap in oral health for rural Australia.
“That month in Dubbo was an unforgettable experience,” she said. A highlight was the opportunity to fly to Collarenebri and Bourke with RFDS dentist Dr Callum Addison. “My first day with the RFDS started with boarding the plane at 7:30am for a one-hour flight to Collarenebri, a town of approximately 400 people,” Jessica said. “Even with the heat, nothing could take away the excitement of the breathtaking views and sitting in the cockpit next to the pilot.”
Flying in and out means that the RFDS has to take portable equipment, including a tool-box with all necessary dental instruments and mobile radiographic equipment. “I could see that treating patients with the limitations of what we could carry was definitely a great challenge and a memorable one,” Jessica said. “It was also amazing to see what a difference having a dentist available made for the people of Collarenebri, who previously did not generally have access to one.”
Jessica’s second day with the RFDS took her to Bourke to provide treatment to patients at the Bourke Aboriginal Health Service. “I was so lucky to work with Dr Addison, who has a wealth of knowledge about dentistry in remote locations,” she said. “If there was one thing I could take from this whole experience, it is that there is still a gap between oral health education and people’s attitude towards the importance of oral health and how it impacts your overall well-being.
“If we could emphasis that ‘healthy mouths makes healthy lives’ to people in these areas that have restricted access to these much needed services, this would be a big step.”
It was not all work. Jessica’s weekends were spent exploring Dubbo’s well-known West Plains Taronga Zoo and participating in the popular Meerkat experience. “Even as a Queenslander, I was not prepared for the heat-wave while I was there,” she said, “with temperatures usually in the low to mid 40s, so I spent lots of time swimming and being surrounded by kangaroos which were also trying to get their share of the cool water.”
Jessica strongly encourages dentistry students to take on a placement in remote Australia “as it will open your eyes to the challenges we still face in these areas to this day.”
“As a student at a regional university campus, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to positive rural experiences throughout my whole degree,” she said. “I feel that this rural focus will provide me with the foundation and skills to be the best dentist I can be for Outback Australia.
“I would like to thank CRANAplus for the support in providing me with this Student Remote Placement Scholarship. Without this scholarship, I would not have been able to experience this amazing opportunity.”
Next year, Jessica has placement rotations in regional and rural areas including Brewarrina, Wagga Wagga, Bathurst and Port Macquarie.
Jessica was president of the CSU Student Dental Association in 2014 and Vice-President in 2013; and Rural Officer for the Australian Dental Student Association and the National Student Representative for the ADA RROHAP (Australian Dental Association Regional and Remote Oral Health Advisory Panel) in 2013 – 2014.
Jessica also received the National Rural Health Leadership Award in 2013 for her commitment and dedication in closing the gap and raising awareness of rural health issues in oral health.