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The dental alum who proudly wears two uniforms

13 November 2020
The Australian Army - an exciting alternative to private practice
Karen Such, Acting Command Health Officer at the Australian Army, has spent 15 years working all over Australia and offshore as an army dentist, completing her training in conscious sedation and pain control at the University of Sydney.

LTCOL Karen Such on the USNS Mercy with US Navy Health colleagues.

Karen (DClinDent'14) earned a Defence University Sponsorship (DUS) while studying dentistry at university. She had always been interested in working in the health sector and had undertaken some work experience at her school dental service. Her dad was already working for the Army and she thought it could offer an interesting way to practice dentistry.

When she graduated, Karen started working for the Army straight away. Her first posting was as a Dental Officer in Darwin. During that posting, she had the opportunity to assist the Senior Dental Officer who was trained in oral surgery and one of the RAAF reservists who was trained in oral sedation with oral surgery cases.

This is where her interest in the specialty began, but it wasn't until her fifth posting in Sydney that she completed her training in conscious sedation and pain control.

"The University of Sydney is the only university in Australia which offers the Diploma in Conscious Sedation and Pain Control for dentists and it has been popular with military dentists due to there being a number of Reserve military dentists involved in running the course over the years", she said.

Taught out of the University of Sydney Westmead Centre for Oral Health, Karen recalls her experience of the program as a positive one. She said the campus offered excellent facilities and the knowledge and skills she gained were useful for understanding how to manage medical emergencies as well as the different levels of sedation that can be utilised for dental treatments.

Since then, Karen has had many roles within the Army. She has worked as Senior Dental Officer, Health Centre Manager, Clinical Governance Officer, Joint Health Command HQ Dental Advisor, Senior Health Officer HQ 6 Brigade, Health Operations Officer and most recently Acting Command Health Officer for HQ Forces Command.

She said it's the diversity of her job and unique experiences that has kept her at the Army for so long.

"I can do a mixture of clinical work as well as health planning and administration. I also enjoy working with people who have a variety of different jobs and skillsets and being able to provide ethical dentistry based on clinical need rather than having to worry about patients paying for treatment", she said.

When asked to recall any highlights of her career, Karen thinks back to her deployment to the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia, as well as to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, where she had the opportunity to provide dental care to remote Aboriginal communities and those without access to dental services.

Today, Karen usually works one day a week in clinic either at HMAS Watson in Watson’s Bay or at St Lukes Hospital in Potts Point, where she performs oral surgery for military patients in the theatre. She says outside of that, a typical workday can be quite varied. 

"Life in the Army is quite variable, while most days start around 7:30am with physical training and finish around 4:30/5pm, what I actually do each day varies between dental clinic, providing dental or general health advice, reviewing policy and of course this year has involved a lot of planning as part of Army’s response to the coronavirus pandemic."

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