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My voluntary dental graduate year programme experience by Julene Wong

in Final year of dental school

My voluntary dental graduate year programme experience by Julene Wong

During dental school it is hard to imagine a world and life outside of studying.

Many of us have gone straight from high school into dental school.

At the end of five years of university you will then ask yourself, why do I want to participate in the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Programme and study for another year?

As I was nearing the end of final year at the University of Western Australia, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do next year. Our graduating class had been given information about the inaugural Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Programme. As this was the first year that this programme would be run, it was hard to know exactly what you would be getting yourself into. The VDGYP offered 50 positions to new graduates across Australia, to work in the public sector for 12 months. The Programme's incentives included 60 CPD hours, mentoring with an experienced clinician, and the option to sit the RACDS primary examination.

I had been told by recent graduates and experienced clinicians, that you will learn the most about the dental world in your first few years out of dental school. I decided to apply for a position to participate in the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Programme for 2013, as I believed it would be an exceptional stepping stone from the fully supervised clinical environment of dental school to the professional working world of dentistry.

In January 2013, I moved from Perth, Western Australia to Albury, New South Wales to commence my six month placement at Albury Wodonga Health Dental Clinic in Wodonga, Victoria. Seeing patients as a fully qualified dentist was surreal. It was strange not having to wait for an "authority to start" from the tutor, or having your clinical work assessed before the patient was allowed to leave. It took me some time to get used to the fact that I was now the sole clinician responsible for the information and clinical work delivered to my patients. In February, my mentor, Dr. Ruchi Chandra and I flew to Adelaide for the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Programme orientation workshop. During this workshop, all the graduates were given information about what to expect from the programme, and what the programme expected from each one of us. It was a chance to ask questions and to navigate around the programme website where we would be accessing all required course work and case studies. The workshop was a wonderful opportunity to network and catch up with other graduates from across Australia.

With the completion of the orientation workshop, we were now ready to start the programme. I worked at the dental clinic full time Monday to Thursday, with the opportunity to approach my mentor with any concerns, questions or problems I encountered. Being a new graduate, there are always aspects of your clinical abilities that you do not feel entirely confident with. For me this was dental extractions. Being a country government clinic, I was exposed to a lot of simple and complex dental extractions. My mentor was always readily available, approachable and happy to help me whenever I needed her. Even if she was running late with her own patients, she never made me that I was a burden to her, or that I couldn't come and ask her for help. Under Ruchi's mentorship, I felt my clinical abilities and skills improve dramatically. I became more confident with dental extractions and felt more equipped to tackle the more complex cases. Knowing that you have a clinical mentor who is willing and happy to teach and support you, provides you with the opportunity and environment to flourish and grow as a clinician. There are no words to describe the impact my mentor had on me as a person and as a clinician. To my mentor Ruchi, thank you.

I chose to participate in stream one of the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Programme – which is the stream that does not sit the RACDS primary examination, and has ten compulsory case presentations. If you choose stream two, you sit the RACDS primary examination and complete five compulsory case presentations. In addition to the case presentations, graduates in both streams must complete twenty case summaries and participate in specialist webinar conferences. My designated non-clinical day was Friday – meaning I did not have clinic, but spent the day doing allocated course work. There was one case summary assigned to each week. The case summaries were grouped into specific topics and dental fields including: orthodontics, paedodontics, endodontics, periodontics, oral surgery, prosthodontics, rural and remote dentistry, special needs dentistry and radiation in dentistry. You were expected to read through articles relevant to that week's case summary and to work through cases that were all provided for you online. While there was quite a lot of content to work through each week, the articles, topics and cases were extremely relevant to your clinical experiences. I felt that I greatly benefited from these case summaries as I was kept up to date with dental issues, treatment options and management for specific dental fields. My clinical experiences were enriched and enhanced by the completion of these weekly case summaries.

The specialist webinar conferences were exceptional. You had the opportunity to submit questions for the specialists prior to the webinar, and the specialists for that session would answer your questions during the conference. These were all accessible via the online learning website through a video link. The specialist's insight to specific dental fields was invaluable.

The ten compulsory case presentations make up a significant portion of the course work. Two of these cases have to be presented for assessment by two mentors. The case presentations are not like the case presentations that you are expected to do in dental school. These case presentations focus more specifically on a dental complication or issue raised by a certain case. For example my first case presentation explored the issues surrounding dental treatment and radiation therapy, as my patient had received head and neck radiation for a soft tissue malignancy in 2008. While you are assessed for these case presentations, there are no questions asked by the mentors, and you cannot "fail" the assessment, rather you are given constructive feedback on how to improve for next time.

I started my second six month placement at Peninsula Health Community Dental Clinic in Frankston at the end of July. It was hard to leave the Wodonga clinic and staff that had become a workplace family for me. Starting at a new work place will always take some getting used to. Frankston Community Health Dental Clinic has a very different vibe compared to the Wodonga Dental Clinic. Participating in two six month contracts has its benefits and limitations. It is a great way to be exposed to a broad range of clinical experiences, patients and clinicians. The limitation of the two placements is that you need to take some time to settle into every new work place, and the second placement has less allocated time to complete the same amount of case presentations.

I am extremely glad to have chosen to participate in the inaugural Voluntary Graduate Dental Year Programme. I feel that it was the right choice for me, as it allowed me to grow as a fully qualified clinician, in a secure, supported and mentored environment. This programme is an excellent opportunity for new graduates to further their clinical and theoretical knowledge and experience to become more efficient and effective clinicians. If you are interested in working in the public sector and expanding yourself as a clinician, this programme is for you. Be prepared to work consistently throughout the year to keep on top of the allocated course work. However this hard work will be rewarded at the end of the programme with a financial bonus, and priceless opportunities, knowledge and experiences to help kick start your dental career.

Julene Wong

Dental Protection is the leading indemnity provider.
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