INCREASED demand for dental experts in the bush is encouraging many graduates to come work in regional centres like Dubbo.
But an over-supply of dentists does not seem to be a problem in regional and rural NSW, according to Charles Sturt University (CSU) vice chancellor Professor Andrew Vann.
Professor Vann fears an Australian Dental Association (ADA) proposal restricting the number of Australian students enrolling in dental programs would hurt rural communities.
A report published by the Graduate Careers Council of Australia found about 84 per cent of graduates found full-time work as dentists and 13.8 per cent found part-time work.
Professor Vann said the ADA’s position was “dangerous for rural communities”, based on Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data which showed country people had access to about half the number of dentists per person, than those in the city.
“While the number of dentists in major cities has grown substantially over the last few years, this is not the case in rural and remote areas and city dental graduates continue to shun rural practice,” he said.
“This is the very reason why the government funded a dental school at CSU.”
CSU’s School of Dentistry and Health Sciences is based at Orange but there are classes at the Bathurst and Dubbo campuses.
Professor Vann said the Bathurst dental clinic at CSU was booked out for six weeks, proving demand was there.
ADA chief executive officer Robert Boyd-Boland said Professor Vann’s comments “missed the point” of the ADA’s remarks regarding a cap on student numbers.
“Contrary to Professor Vann’s comments, the graduation statistics he refers to show that in 2012 there were only 83.6 per cent of dentist graduates in employment at the time of the survey,” he said.
“The problem is that those graduates not in employment (along with most other health professionals) are not willing to practice in rural and remote Australia. Students are graduating with a sizable debt with limited or no opportunity to work in the profession in which they have trained.”
Mr Boyd-Boland said the ADA supported the establishment of CSU dental clinic, as it saw the benefit of having a rural tertiary health education institution.
He also said the situation warranted a thorough workforce review with regard to the number of graduates needed before any more resources were allocated.
“The ADA is a member and supporter of the National Rural Health Alliance - the leading voice in rural health.
“The alliance established a funded panel to attempt to increase the number of dentists practising in rural Australia... and provide(s) scholarships funded by its members to students from rural backgrounds who promise to return to the rural areas to practise when graduated,” he said.
CSU has invited ADA president Dr Karin Alexander to tour rural, regional and Indigenous communities as its guest to get a first-hand look at the situation.