Despite planning my placement with Work the World almost 12 months ahead of the completion of my fourth year, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to experience.
I booked my placement for three weeks. During this time, I would come to call Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, home and become a better Dentist.
I was based at a small government-run facility located in the central business district. As well as dental services, it has a strong focus on maternal health with a busy obstetrics and gynaecology department, plus other primary health services including minor emergencies.
The dental department consisted of a small but busy team: one dental technician and several assistants. The clinic has three dental chairs, but only one is attached to an air compressor with a functional handpiece. On my first day, I quickly learnt that practicing here was about as different as I could get from practicing in Australia.
Because the clinic receives minimal funding compared to other departments such as maternity, they have to make do with what they have and that isn’t much. It also happens to be the things that we take for granted in Australia.
The knowledge, experience and confidence I have gained from this elective is absolutely priceless:
- Should I ever be in a mass power outage and a patient needs an acrylic denture adjusted, it’s possible (but not advisable) to do this with a metal file from the hardware store!
- Not being wasteful.
- Coming to terms with the accepted practices even when it went against my training.
- Performing extractions with limited resources.
- Being exposed to many fascinating and challenging cases.
- Performing amalgams with nothing but my thumb and a ball burnisher!
- Being more flexible and adaptable.
- Seeing firsthand the theories I learnt in Public Oral Health.
- The detriment of only attending the dentist when pain is present.
- The consequences for health services and patients when prevention is not a priority.
My time in Tanzania wasn’t all work and no play. Alongside my clinical work, I was fortunate enough to travel. I went on a wildlife safari in Mikumi National Park, celebrated Christmas on Bongoyo Island, a tropical paradise just off the coast of Dar es Salaam, and by far my favourite, I spent time with the family of Dr Mango, one of my supervisors.
Having Work the World plan my placement meant I could be based in a country where I had always wanted to go in addition to being placed in a hospital where the clinical work would give me plenty of experience.