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Short-stay placements can address regional dentist shortage: report

03 June, 2014

One of the keys to solving extreme shortages of dental practitioners in remote Australia is proving to be short-stay (three to four weeks) placements for final-year dental students, according to a recent report into a 10-year program in WA.

The paper published in The Australian Dental Journal examined evidence gathered from a program which has integrated research, service and visiting education dental services in some of Australia's most remote communities for the past decade.

According to the authors from the International Research Collaborative - Oral Health and Equity at The University of Western Australia's (UWA) Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Human Biology, the successes of the last decade include developing new solutions to reduce the dental pain and suffering for people living in remote Australia. Their models of dental services, based on developing strong community links and tied to the supervised student participation, have been found to be both cost-effective and sustainable.

Despite an increasing demand for dental care across Australia most dentists are expected to remain in the city. As trends in medicine have shown, the greatest effect will be felt in rural and remote regions, where an undersupply of dentists already exists.

An ideal training model

The increased focus on Indigenous and rural and remote health from the very first year of dental education right through to placements in the final years has introduced new graduate dentists to remote areas where dental care was previously all but non-existent.

Previous research suggests an increased likelihood for health graduates to choose rural practice if they have a rural background, or are exposed to rural practice during their education.

Team leader and co-author UWA Winthrop Professor Marc Tennant said the model provided a launch pad for more dentists to consider remote area dental care as a viable career opportunity.

"It is clear that it is important to provide strategies that will increase the recruitment and retention of practitioners in rural and remote areas," Professor Tennant said.

He observed that close professional mentorship and arrangements that saw dentists and students linked to the local community health service were vital to the model's success, which is now being used as the basis for developing new dental schools in Australia.

"A true highlight of the program was to provide local people with skills in disease prevention and work-skills that have contributed to new opportunities for a number of Aboriginal people across remote areas of the country," Professor Tennant said.

The team is now working to share its experiences in other states and internationally, and as far afield as Vanuatu and Saudi Arabia.

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Veronica Dix | Thursday, June 5, 2014, 10:51 AM
I believe it should be mandatory for ALL (including overseas) graduates to spend at least 12 months in regional and rural areas. Even more so now that there is an over abundance of new graduates, that are exceeding the job availability in the cities. This would not only help fill the gap for regional areas, but would allow the graduates to gain further practical as well as clinical skills in a day to day environment. Regional areas also offer quite different socio-economic structures than cities do, so it will also assist new graduates in gaining an understanding of how dentistry may need to be tailored to suit the individuals financial circumstances. There has seemed to be a trend of new graduates that hit the city practices with the view that they will be making "high end" incomes with a focus on cosmetic procedures, without the understanding that what is really needed is good quality dentistry and oral education for a population base that may not be so affluent as others.
owen crombie | Thursday, June 12, 2014, 12:45 PM
Mandatory rural practice time will not solve the BIG problem with rural Dentistry: Governments dont want to pay Dentists enough to work in the public sector . The secondary problem is that Dentists like most worker dont come a s single isolated person, so to get them to stay rural their spouses, significant others, children and so on need to be accommodated ( and occupied) as well, unless of course you elect to do it FIFO, like for mining