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  Royal Flying Doctor Service Oral Health Therapist Rachel Herbert with Amreen Khan and Ricky Zhang

Oral health students complete first rural placements in Bourke

8 April 2020
Sydney students promoting good oral health to rural communities

Final year oral health students share their experiences undertaking the first ever clinical placement at the North Western Academic Centre in Bourke, a hub of the Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health.

Ricky Zhang and Amreen Khan following their cultural training with Dr Cathryn Forsyth, Aunty Olga and Aunty June.

Ricky Zhang and Amreen Khan following their cultural training with Dr Cathryn Forsyth, Aunty Olga and Aunty June.

For final year Bachelor of Oral Health students Amreen Khan and Ricky Zhang, completing their practical placement at the North Western Academic Centre Bourke, a hub of the Broken Hill University Department of Rural Health, was an opportunity to learn in an environment they had never been in before. This was the first time Oral Health students had been placed in Bourke.

“We do our best to give them a welcoming insight into the need for their professions in these areas and the amount of experience they would benefit from, being out here with limited resources and colleagues” says Project Officer Cheryl Swinton. “We have access to a great number of stakeholders which enables most students to come out this way and there’s a great need for their expertise in rural and remote communities.”

We asked recently returned Amreen and Ricky some questions about their rural experience.

Before starting your placement in Bourke, what did you think it would be like?

Because this was the first time either of us have travelled to such a rural setting, we didn’t know what to expect. However, by reading online articles and hearing first hand experiences of Bourke from others, we were anxious to visit the town.

What interested you to take the opportunity to complete your placement in a rural setting?

Out of all the locations provided to us by the University, Bourke was one of the furthest away to Sydney. This attracted us to the town, as the physical isolation, as well as limited access to dental care, meant our placement would provide the otherwise isolated community with the rare opportunity for oral health awareness and education.

What were some of the most memorable experiences?

The community and people involved in our placement were probably the best highlights of our trip. Everyone welcomed us into the town and made us feel at home, which was so positive and heart-warming.

We were easily able to organise meetings with various members of the community who assisted us in conducting a thorough needs analysis of the town and we were able to gather their input as to how our placement here would best benefit the community.

Tagging along with the Royal Flying Doctors Service’s Dental team and learning what they do in rural areas was also another experience that really stood out to us.

On top of this, we were given the opportunity to participate in numerous community events such as the community BBQ, line dancing at the local restaurant and setting up a stall at the school fete.

Amreen Khan and Ricky Zhang with their oral health stand at a primary school fete in Bourke

Amreen Khan and Ricky Zhang with their oral health stand at local fete in Bourke.

Why do you think oral health is so important in rural and regional areas?

In a town such as Bourke, there is very limited access to dental services. The Oral Health Therapist in the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) is in town 4 days a week and many people are unaware of how and who can access this service.

Because of this, it’s important that we collaborate with the RFDS to deliver this information to the community who otherwise wouldn’t prioritise their oral care due to their understanding that these dental services aren’t available to them and the costs associated with it.

Would you recommend other oral health students take up the opportunity to do their placement in a rural school? 

One hundred percent. I could not recommend a rural health placement experience any greater. The opportunities and experiences that present itself are second to none, especially for someone that has never been so rural like myself.

The placement presented insights that totally changed my views of working rurally (in a very positive way). With everywhere that lacks areas of healthcare, clinical challenges are ever more present and learning about the need for continuous and holistic healthcare with appropriate cultural awareness was truly eye opening.

 It signified the need for further student placements in Bourke to continue our aim of expanding oral health awareness and education as well as the prospect of future full-time employment in the town.

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