Science alumnus Dr Mohit Tolani wins Alumni Award

8 May 2018
Providing healthcare to those that need it most
Dr Mohit Tolani, who graduated with his Bachelor of Medical Science in 2010, has won the Outstanding Achievements of Young Alumni Award from the University of Sydney.
Dr Mohit Tolani beside a dentist chair

Dr Mohit Tolani

Growing up on the Gold Coast, Dr Mohit Tolani often came to Sydney to visit family. When he was in year 12, the bus he was on stopped outside the University of Sydney's main gate.

"I thought, 'What is this beautiful place? It looks like Oxford'," Mohit says.

Determined to come here, he studied hard for his HSC and gained a scholarship to the University of Sydney for a medical science degree.

Mohit loved his mix of studies, ranging from biology and pharmacology to Hindi and an honours year in pathology. Graduate medicine or dentistry beckoned, but he also loved research. So he did some serious soul-searching before choosing.

He realised he liked working with his hands, talking to people, networking, and seeing projects through from start to finish. "I decided on dentistry and I've never looked back," he says.

He loves the manually dextrous, finely-tuned work and cracking jokes to ease his patients' anxieties.

Mohit was an excellent scholar but he did far more than study. He became secretary of the Science Society and reignited the Medical Science Society. He also participated in the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience and the Australian League of Immigration Volunteers program. He even joined Rotaract because it encourages students to create positive change.

Community service is Mohit's idea of a good time. "You meet new people and use your knowledge to help them grow and develop," he says. He was delighted when some kids he worked with taught him hip-hop.

"We need to empower people to take charge of their own health..."
Dr Mohit Tolani

Working at Goulburn Valley Health in regional Victoria, Mohit taught himself to drive the big van that was kitted out as a dental surgery. With a nurse, he'd head out to places where it was difficult for people to get to the dentist.

"We'd open the back and people would come - we did it for old people, we did it for children," Mohit says. "That van holds a very special place in my heart."

In 2013, Mohit led an international project on Oral Health Literacy to reduce inequities in healthcare for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, migrants and refugees. Having worked with asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Syria who'd never seen a dentist, Mohit wanted not only to educate but also to inspire.

"We need to empower people to take charge of their own health," he says. "If people can take charge, how many issues could be prevented?"

Mohit's work has considerable impact. One unemployed patient hadn't seen a dentist in 30 years. He was in pain and anxious but wouldn't turn up for appointments. One day he came in ready to do things differently.

Mohit gave him a toothbrush and taught him an oral hygiene routine, and the patient managed to keep the teeth Mohit initially thought he would lose. The patient began to take more care of his appearance and his confidence grew. Eventually he found full-time work.

Later, he brought flowers to Mohit. "You're like a candle that has shone the light on me," he said to Mohit. "Now I'm not scared to face the world."

As Mohit accepts this award, he and his wife are expecting their first child. Life is about to give him even more caring to do.

The Alumni Awards program is made up of six Alumni Achievement Awards and six Graduate Medals, each with their own specific categories and criteria. The Outstanding Achievements of Young Alumni Award recognises outstanding achievements made by alumni aged 35 and younger. With a broad scope, the award celebrates what younger alumni have achieved in their shorter career span.