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Dental Student on Wheels
Traveling in the purpose-built dental van to provide services in aged care facilities in the Port Macquarie region was a highlight for Jessica Zachar, a Final Year Dentistry Student at Charles Sturt University, during her rural placement.
My time on the van was an unforgettable experience during my four-week placement at the Mid North Coast Local Health District (MNCLHD) in Port Macquarie. Having the opportunity to provide treatment to those who could not regularly access a dentist due to physical and mental conditions was both rewarding and memorable. I saw a range of patients who had a variety of needs such as relief of pain, general checks up, extractions, fillings and assessments for new dentures.
Transport is one of the biggest barriers for the elderly in accessing oral health services and the van bridges this gap by going to the aged care facility itself. The half million-dollar purpose built dental van comes complete with a wheelchair lift into the mobile surgery, a small waiting area suitable for a carer and storage area for equipment and instruments. As well as the wheelchair lift for personal chairs, it also has a reclinable portable wheel chair for in-house visits.
The van was commissioned by MNCLHD in partnership with the Centre for Oral Health Strategy to provide general dental services to clients in such facilities. It began operating in late 2012 and has since rotated around the Mid North Coast region including Laurieton, Kempsey, Woolgoolga, Camden Haven, Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.
I can see that the dental van is a successful tool in addressing oral health needs in regional communities. I would like to see this service used in remote communities to close the gap in access to oral health services.
The public clinic at the Community Health Campus has expanded in recent years with seven dental chairs currently operating and as a result, has dramatically reduced the waiting list time for the local community.
It wasn’t all work during my placement: I also had the chance to continue study – and also play. Port Macquarie has a Charles Sturt University (CSU) campus in town. This allowed fellow students and myself to videoconference during lectures and tutorials based at the CSU Orange Campus on Wednesdays. With such technology, CSU dental students have the opportunity to receive support and mentorship during their final year of dentistry while undertaking a full year of placement in different regional towns such as Bathurst, Wagga Wagga, Albury, Dubbo, Orange and Port Macquarie.
Weekends consisted of exploring the coast with activities such as camel riding at Light House Beach, jet skiing by the marine and visiting the Bago Vineyard Maze.
I would like to thank CRANAplus for their support and in particular Zeitz Enterprises for sponsoring me during this rural placement. I look forward to graduating this December and starting my career in rural Australia, particularly in the public health sector and this placement has further reinforced how much I love living and working in regional and rural communities of Australia such as this one.
Jessica is currently a final year dentistry student at Charles Sturt University. She was previously the President of the CSU Dental Student Association and was the Rural Officer of the Australian Dental Student Association in 2014. She is also the recipient of the 2013 National Rural Health Leadership Award for her passion, work and commitment towards closing the gap in oral health for rural Australia