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My first year in practice: a country change

Post date: 15/12/2015 | Time to read article: 4 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 14/11/2018

By Dr G, a class of 2014 graduate

The prospects for 2015 became exciting and far more concrete when I was given the opportunity to take up a full-time position in Roma with the South West Hospital and Health Service. After a quick Google search of how far away Roma actually was, I decided on a country change; from the white sandy beaches of Gold Coast to the red soil of south-west Queensland. Those who knew me as a city girl who had never touched a horse were surprised I would make such a dramatic move. However, for a supportive mentor, a fulfilling job with ample opportunity and an invaluable life experience, it was well worth the ride. 

Working in a remote town such as Roma comes with many challenges and rewards which a dentist wouldn’t normally experience in the city. Patients often have to travel long distances for their appointments. If it rains, a patient may arrive 1-3 hours early for their appointment in case they are flooded into their property.  

And they are extremely grateful. I’ve lost count how many times a patient has exclaimed ‘I can’t wait to eat a steak’ once I’ve issued a new denture.

Working in a remote area, and with limited access to specialists, I’ve learnt that treatment plans may need to be altered and strict case selection is of paramount importance. This has been a huge advantage for me as a new graduate; with the trust of a friendly patient base and the guidance of a skilled mentor, the practical experiences I’ve received in all aspects of dentistry have been instrumental to my continued learning and professional growth. 

The public service is one that I had once underestimated in regards to the sheer organisation and …. the enormous amount of paperwork! In complete honesty, I initially did not consider entering the public sector, however, due to the smaller waiting lists in such a rural town as Roma and the strong support of my mentor and team, I have been very fortunate to be given the freedom to provide patients with an ideal treatment plan at no out of pocket cost to them. I believe this aspect is one of the greatest strengths of having a position here in Roma.  

This year I have already had access to many further educational opportunities, including a number of CPD courses and even a business management course to improve efficiency of patient management. With the public service, I’ve had the chance to work on a number of occasions with patients under general anaesthesia and to operate outreach dental clinics within the Maranoa region, including Injune, Surat, Mitchell and St George. Here, I’ve learnt to be resourceful; without sometimes having the myriad of instruments and materials as a normal clinic would, creativity and improvisation are essential skills I’ve adopted.

Halfway through the year, I started working some of my rostered days off at a local private practice and here I’ve been able to work with another demographic of patients and hone other skills. What surprised me when I first started doing private practice is how much more work and communication was needed to attain a patient’s trust. Although I offered exactly the same treatment options for my public and private patients, private patients were more discerning about the options available, and wanted to talk things through much more to enable them to make an informed decision. 

I think the most challenging part of my first year was managing patients who did have initial suspicions of my level of experience. I received regular comments such as ‘you look a bit young to be a dentist’ and ‘which one is my dentist?’ as they looked back and forth between me and my dental assistant.  This experience has taught me that I cannot change what people may initially think but I can certainly change their final impression by treating them with kindness, respect and professionalism. Humour can go a long way as well! 

By the end of this year, I expected to find the MB2 canal, diagnose toothache and remove teeth with greater efficacy and, although this may be true to some extent, I also found myself learning so much more than that. I learnt how to ride a horse, how to shoot a compound bow in archery, how to read a mud map, the difference between a rodeo and a campdraft, what to do when a snake is on the road and the name of every NRL team. Never in the city did I think about the need to leave the clinic on time to avoid the kangaroos and never have I found it so easy to make friends. I accepted this position, not completely realising how much a country town could offer me, how welcoming each member of the community was and how rewarding this year would truly be. My first year as a dentist has been a year of learning, fun and adventure and I’m so glad I made this move; it may not be forever, but while I’m here in the South West, I will take every opportunity in my stride. 
The dentolegal adviser's perspective
Dr Annalene Weston, Brisbane office

We would like to thank Dr G for sharing her experiences with us, and she raises some very pertinent points.  It can be a culture shock to change between rural and metropolitan environs, but maintaining a good attitude and a good sense of humour often helps us along the way.

Individual patients DO indeed require different amounts of information and discussion time in order to be certain that you have obtained valid consent for their treatment, and while the standard of record keeping required remains the same in public and private settings, some institutions also place an additional broad range administrative requirements on the dental practitioner, which can feel burdensome at times, but must be done. 

Finally, never underestimate the value of a good mentor, their knowledge and example will influence you for the rest of the career

For those of you starting in practice – good luck!  It’s quite a ride!

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