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A taste of the Territory inspires VIC dental therapist to take the plunge into NT

Photo: A taste of the Territory inspires VIC dental therapist to take the plunge into N....
Victorian dental therapist Natalie Bright is enjoying a 12-month contract with the Northern Territory Department of Health (NT DoH) after completing two, three-week placements with the Australian Government-funded Remote Area Health Corps (RAHC).

RAHC offers short-term paid placements to urban-based health professionals to support the hard working permanent health workforce in remote Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory.

Natalie, 48, is working for the NT DoH’s Central Australian Health Service in Alice Springs and with school-based clinics, which will also see her travel to remote communities.

“When the job came up that was definitely part of the attraction for me, to continue with remote-area work, because I’ve enjoyed my other RAHC placements,” she said.
“I like the combination and variety of working in Alice Springs and the potential of going to very remote places as well.”

Natalie grew up in Warragul and graduated in 2003 from the University of Melbourne. She was formerly employed at Latrobe Community Health Service in Moe and Morwell.

RAHC was designed to increase the pool of urban-based health professionals available for work in Indigenous communities by attracting, recruiting and orienting them. Ongoing support and training is provided to assist with the transition to remote practice.

Natalie said the application process involved providing references and credentials, and undergoing background checks.

“It’s a rigorous process, but it’s important to make sure that people are skilled and appropriate for the placements,” she said.

Natalie encouraged people with similar backgrounds to “give it a go” but said they needed the right motivation.

“It’s a chance to experience something you would never do in a town or city,” she said.

“It’s not just the dental side but the whole cultural aspect, getting to know a little about Indigenous people and the challenges they face. Just go for it.

“There are no luxuries; it’s hot and dusty, so it’s not for everyone. There’s not much to do in communities either, so you need to keep yourself entertained, and you need to be culturally sensitive.

“I have worked in private practice as well, but feel my skills are needed more in the public sector, working with disadvantaged communities.”

Natalie’s first placement with RAHC was at Maningrida in Arnhem Land, 500km east of Darwin, population 2,000.

“I absolutely loved it. I was so nervous going up; I didn’t know what to expect, whether I’d be any good, would I fit in, I was ridiculously anxious,” she said.

“When I got there I couldn’t believe I was so fortunate to be doing a placement somewhere that most non-Aboriginal Australians will never see and getting paid for the privilege. It just blew me away, I really enjoyed it.”

Natalie said the accommodation was in motel style, single rooms with a communal kitchen to share.

“That’s great because you get to meet other service providers and connect with them,” she said.

The experience boosted her confidence and she couldn’t wait to go back.

Her second placement with RAHC was at Ramingining in February for three weeks. The community of 800 people is 560km east of Darwin.

First impressions included a dose of culture shock.

“I couldn’t get over the isolation; even the airport is just a single shed,” she said.

“It’s hard to describe how different it is. I just felt very fortunate to be there.

“The people were lovely, very nice. Communication can be difficult, but there’s usually someone in the clinic who can help with language and I tried to learn a few local words for things like water.”

Alice Springs is a modern, attractive regional centre in a stunning, ancient landscape.

“The town has a very laid-back vibe, I really like it,” Natalie said.

“I don’t have a job to go back to in Victoria; I hope the job might be extended up here, or I might go back to RAHC for placements until I find something.

“If I do return to Victoria I hope to continue with RAHC placements. My former boss was very good and allowed me to take leave without pay when I needed it.”

Natalie said that working with more complex dental issues had strengthened her skills.

“There are lots of younger kids with decayed front teeth; some of them need a huge amount of treatment,” she said.

“Soft drinks in communities are common and we see many kids with holes in their front teeth.

“Generally the oral hygiene isn’t that great. It’s disappointing, but in the context of other issues they have in communities, dental can be low on the priorities.

“You have to think about the context. If I’m seeing a kid now there might not be a dental team out for another few months so you think about what can be done with that child immediately so they will be okay until the next team comes through.”

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