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TAFE NSW and University of Sydney work together to boost Aboriginal dental health workforce

TAFE NSW and University of Sydney work together to boost Aboriginal dental health workforce

TAFE NSW and the University of Sydney are working together on a pathway program to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gain the necessary skills to work in the dentistry profession.

With funding from NSW Ministry of Health - Centre for Oral Health Strategy, the unique program facilitates students’ careers in the dental services industry by combining nationally recognised qualifications with on-the-job training, with an emphasis on reconnecting with their local communities.

TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Dental Studies, Suzie Woods said: “Participants are supported to complete the nationally accredited Certificate III in Dental Assisting over one year, while being employed as trainees – so they can gain workplace skills while gaining a qualification.”

“Importantly, the course is funded by the NSW Government’s Smart and Skilled program, and the cost of travel, accommodation, uniforms, and laptops associated with the course are covered by the University of Sydney Scholarship scheme,” Ms Woods said.

“Once the student successfully completes the Certificate III, they are eligible to apply for direct entry into the Bachelor of Oral Health followed by the Doctor of Dental Medicine at the University of Sydney.”

Professor Heiko Spallek, Head of School and Dean of the Sydney Dental School at the University of Sydney, said the innovative program is an excellent model for other health professions where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are underrepresented.

“This program demonstrates the power of the vocational education and university sectors working in partnership to address entrenched, system-level barriers which have prevented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from participating fully across all roles in critical workforces,” Professor Spallek said.

The program’s first cohort commenced in April 2023 and will complete the Certificate III in December 2023. Students in this cohort are joining the program from Thunggutti/Dunghutti  (Kempsey), Wiradjuri (Dubbo and Orange), Bulgarr Ngaru (Casino), Darug (Penrith) and Gadigal (Woolloomooloo).

Training is delivered through a mix of weekly virtual classes and four face-to-face practical training blocks per year, with the program expected to run each year for three years. The next intake is in July 2023.

25-year-old Kamilaroi woman Kiara-Lee Kovacs is currently studying the Certificate III in Dental Assisting and says the pathway program will help her to achieve her dream of becoming a dentist.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping others, and after working as a hairdresser for seven years, I decided I needed a change. Throughout the certificate, I’ve gained hands on skills such as sterilising equipment and assisting with procedures like root canals, which has been challenging but rewarding,” Ms Kovacs said.

“The program has been very helpful for me as a young Aboriginal woman and has made me want to go further in life. Juggling my studies while looking after my two-year-old daughter isn’t always easy, but the support of my teachers and my family has been invaluable.

“I’m looking forward to progressing to the Bachelor of Oral Health at the University of Sydney next year and becoming a dentist one day, so I can continue to help others and make a difference.”

Media contact: Emma Hughes, Communications Specialist, 0409 618 291,