With a focus on promoting equitable access to oral health care, Dr Archana Pradhan is an advocate for the importance of educating non-dental health sectors.
She aims to make oral health care more accessible to the community by stretching her focus beyond traditional dental practices.
Mentoring postgraduate and undergraduate students, she hopes to empower the next generation of healthcare professionals.
"I wish to pass on my hard-won knowledge, skills and share my successful strategies to the next generation of students, working together with equally passionate colleagues," says Dr Pradhan from the Sydney Dental School.
Dr Archana Pradhan believes health professionals, policymakers and the public all have a role addressing the consequences of oral disease.
As a recently appointed Associate Professor of Special Needs Dentistry (SND) and Gerodontology, she is looking to explore opportunities for collaboration in clinical placements and research related to people with special needs (physical/intellectual disability, mental illness, and complex medical conditions) and the elderly.
In Australia, there are only 25 registered specialists in SND across the public, private and university sectors, all based in major cities.
It is challenging for dental and non-dental health practitioners to meet the dental needs of the growing population of people with special needs, a group that is identified as a priority population in global, national and state plans and strategic directions.
Dr Pradhan’s PhD research in Adelaide saw positive outcomes that resulted in a smooth transition of care for children with special needs from the Department of Paediatric Dentistry at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital to the Special Needs Unit at the Adelaide Dental Hospital.
Her research was also instrumental towards the continuity of care for people with disability when they returned to the community.
Dr Pradhan’s project in Adelaide, Oral care training for carers of people with disabilities, highlighted the benefits of group oral health education, regular onsite dental examinations and referral for treatment for employees with disabilities.
At the University of Queensland, she initiated and consolidated the development of multiple new placements for undergraduate and postgraduate students and facilitated referral pathways for aged care residents and mental health clients.
This work resulted in improved patient outcomes and positive feedback from staff and students.
Postgraduate students gained a real-world learning opportunity for patient-centred experiences through clinical placements and undergraduate students generated awareness and interest.
Incorporating postgraduate students as collaborative team members enabled further peer-led training for undergraduate students.
Students received positive experience with older adults and people with mental health issues in non-dental care settings and developed a greater understanding of their dental, medical and social challenges.
Complementary expertise among the different professions played a critical role in enabling people with severe mental illness to overcome systemic and personal barriers to dental treatment and reduce oral health inequalities.
Through her project, Dr Pradhan hopes to expand on the success of clinical placements of postgraduate SND students that foster interprofessional education, practice and research.
These clinical placements promote working with medical, nursing, pharmacy and allied health professionals and support non-dental health care colleagues in the oral health care of patients with special needs at hospitals and residential aged care facilities, mental health and disability sectors and rural and remote settings.
Postgraduate SND students gain real world experience, mutual respect and an understanding of the skills and competencies of each team member.
The result is a built workforce capacity of dental and non-dental health practitioners for smooth referral pathways to provide timely, appropriate care to priority populations.
Dr Pradhan has faced numerous challenges during her clinical and academic career.
Limited research on people with special needs has impacted initiatives in the emerging specialty of SND.
“I wish to pass on my hard-won knowledge, skills and share my successful strategies to the next generation of students, working together with equally passionate colleagues," says Dr Pradhan.