Adventure in Outback: Final year JCU student profile

For final-year Dentistry students at James Cook University in Queensland (, four

years of extensive preparation and study have culminated at this moment; the capstone rural placement experience. Two 18-week rural placements at sites across the state and in the Northern Territory and Tasmania bring together everything students have learned to date and get them ready to graduate as dental professionals.

Fifth-year student Sowmya Bolla chose Mount Isa, in Queensland’s north west, for her placement based on what she’d learned about the town as part of a third-year public health project. Originally from South India, Sowmya spent over 10 years in Mackay through schooling. While familiar with rural Queensland, she knew Mount Isa would provide a whole new adventure and opportunities for professional and personal growth. As she nears the completion of her placement, she can confirm that the reality of the experience more than met her expectations.

Was Mount Isa one of your preferences and if so, why?

Mount Isa was my first preference when it came to choosing placement sites due to various reasons. It seemed to offer the Outback Queensland experience along with excellent clinical opportunities. I have been passionate about rural and remote health since my exposure to it as part of a third-year subject that looked at a particular rural town and its demographics, epidemiology, and other factors impacting oral health. I had chosen Mount Isa which then led to my interest in this town. Now, as a final-year dentistry student, I wanted to gain more perspective on the rural and remote culture.

What were your expectations coming into Mount Isa?

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Mount Isa. I have always longed for an adventure

and felt I was in for an amazing experience. After approaching previous students who had completed their placement in Mount Isa, I knew I was coming into a town where I had to put myself outside

my comfort zone to embrace the true Outback experience.

What have been your key takeaways?

My experience in Mount Isa has been amazing. It provided me with an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Getting involved in a close-knit community has helped me understand the sense of community and belonging. Through dentistry, I was able to connect with people on a personal level and learn about the history of the town, its people, and the culture. I am truly grateful to have been given this opportunity.

What have you enjoyed most, clinically?

The Northwest Hospital and Health Services’ dental team welcomed us into their family with open arms. I enjoyed my time working with the amazing staff and have learned valuable lessons from the clinical supervisors. My special interest being paedodontics and oral surgery; NWHHS has helped me expand my clinical skills within these fields. We were also provided with the opportunity to do outreach work in Cloncurry. Working in the only dental clinic in Cloncurry has helped me understand the importance and need of oral health in rural and remote Australia. We also had the opportunity to perform dental treatment under general anaesthetic in theatre. I can confirm that this was the coolest experience ever!

What kind of support have you received from uni while on placement?

JCU’s Murtupuni Centre for Remote and Rural Health (CRRH) has been supporting students on placement since day one! The CRRH staff are friendly and approachable and always listen to our concerns. They encouraged us to explore the outdoors by providing us with camping gear as well as encouraging us to attend the Hard Times Mine underground mining tour!

What have you done with your downtime?

During my placement, I dedicated my weekends to exploring the great outdoors! I have taken up paddle boarding and kayaking at Lake Moondarra and chased jaw-dropping sunsets at Granite mines, Telstra Hill and the Cloncurry lookout. I have also been to the Northern Territory border and attended the local races. And finally, to fully complete my outback adventure, I camped at Lawn Hill and Camooweal!

How would you describe the Mount Isa community?

The Mount Isa community is close knit and very welcoming to visitors. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get homesick the first two weeks of moving here. However, this community made me at home by easing the feeling of social isolation and helping me rediscover my hobbies.

What tips do you have for making the most of placement?

The biggest tip I can give is to put yourself outside your comfort zone! I would have never known that I love the outdoors if I didn’t take the opportunity of coming to Mount Isa and say yes to new adventures.

Now that you’re nearing the completion of your degree, what areas are you most focused on when it comes to starting your career? How are you addressing them?

As a final-year dentistry student, the most important aspect I am focused on is identifying tools required to establish my roots in a practice that encourages learning and growth. JCU gave me three years of clinical practice, but know I still have a lot to learn and improve on. Working in a practice with appropriate mentorship and learning from experienced clinicians is a blessing and I hope to find this when I graduate. I have consulted with my clinical supervisors and I have attended lectures and workshops provided by ADSA (ADSA Graduate Series) and this has equipped me with the right tools.

What are your plans for next year, and why have you chosen this pathway?

Completing my placement in Mount Isa has sparked my interest in rural and remote Dentistry as it helped me understand the need for oral health practitioners within these areas. Poor oral health and lack of oral health literacy is a major concern that needs to be addressed and that’s why I plan to work in a rural or remote setting after I graduate.

Are you aware of the resources available in the ADA’s Dental Graduate Handbook? If so, are you finding them helpful?

I am certainly aware of helpful resources like this one! Graduating from dental school is overwhelming. Being the first soon-to-be dentist in my family, I am unfamiliar with post-graduation responsibilities and requirements within this field. However, the Handbook has educated me to understand programs, and policies. It has the tools to guide you in the right direction, whether it be understanding the types of insurance available or creating a great resume.

The Dental Graduate Handbook 2022 which answers all kinds of questions anyone graduating from dentistry studies might have about their new career.


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