Andrew Somerville went on two week placement in Broken Hill and never came back. Now almost two years on, we caught up with him to find out what led him to make the move to one of Australia's most iconic mining towns.
I grew up in Wollongong, a beautiful coastal town where I enjoyed bushwalking up Mt. Keira and regularly checking out the local music scene. Aside from being a live jazz bar owner, for some reason teeth and gums always seemed to be a dream career to me.
Oral health at Sydney was a degree which stuck out to me because of its emphasis on community health with prevention at its core, the importance of oral health and how it interplays with the rest of our body, and the hands-on nature of the degree.
I was involved in rural and metro placements during my studies. By third year, we had clinical placements across Sydney four days a week. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent spread of placements which exposed me to a wide demographic – from the Royal North Shore’s Community Health Centre to Westmead Hospital and Yagoona in Sydney's South West.
In my final year of of study, my classmate Bianca and I were lucky enough to score Broken Hill as our rural placement. That placement has since changed the trajectory of my life, as those two weeks were enough to convince me to stay in Broken Hill and continue living the 'Silver City' dream.
It's coming up to two years since I started living in Broken Hill and I can't imagine myself anywhere else. The experiences I’ve had while living here have been simply awesome, but there is also a real health disparity being experienced by rural communities.
When I first visited Broken Hill as a student, there was no dental practitioner employed by the Far West Local Health District, which translated to a waitlist of 600+ kids to have their teeth treated. I wanted to do my part for the wonderful community and make an impact on Broken Hill.
In a small country town like Broken Hill you can be sure that everyone knows everyone. It is a concentrated hub, surrounded by the vastness of nothingness. There is a sense that we’re all “in it together.” So when you treat patients you know you are treating the community.
You can be sure to bump into patients at the shops, along Argent St, or at the pub! There is a feeling of connectedness, something that you don't get in bigger metropolitan clinics.
I think I first decided I was going to move to Broken Hill when I drove out to Silverton for the first time. It's a small town about 25km out of Broken Hill with a population barely hitting 50. The landscape is charmingly desolate with the red sand plains, rocky outcrops, mulga trees and of course the spectacular sunsets. It was a winning combination far too enticing to pass up.
Life in Broken Hill is unlike anything else. It is definitely kooky and at times very bizarre. There’s a joke that you’re either a miner or an artist, so you can imagine the colourful fashions and language around town.
I am currently working for Far West Local Health District’s Broken Hill Public Dental Service in the brand new Community Health Centre. As a new graduate, I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience I have gained while working out here. It has been completely invaluable.
I have been able to exercise my full scope of practice, develop a school screening program to identify decay rates in town, I sit on the Centre for Oral Health Strategy’s Oral Health Promotion Network, and find myself working alongside community members and other allied health practitioners. My team is fantastic and are always there to support me.
I’m not too sure what my plans for the future are. Maybe some further study… maybe I'll move further towards Australia’s red centre. Broken Hill has made a profound impact on who I am and how I see the world. Whatever I do, Broken Hill will always be in mind.
We asked Andrew when he was a student where he saw himself in 10 years. He said, "I see myself implementing long term health goals in regional communities."
Associate Professor Ayman Ellakwa is part of a team of researchers from UNSW and the University of Wollongong who have received a CRC-P grant with a total project value of $8.3 million, to develop a new fibre-reinforced dental composite.