MORE regional students are enrolling in dental science than ever before due to a new initiative by La Trobe University.
Of 54 first-year students studying a bachelor of dental science (honours), more than half come from rural or regional areas - from Swan Hill to Shepparton, and Mount Gambier to Colac.
This is up 27 per cent from the 2020 intake, when just 13 of 51 students were from regional or rural areas
La Trobe University head of dentistry and oral health, associate professor Rachel Martin, said this year the university aimed to provide more opportunities for regional and rural students.
She said these students used a special code when they applied for the course through the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre.
"(The code) then identifies them and gives them a particular advantage that prioritises them to enter into our course...and that will be in place for next year as well," she said.
Dr Martin said the initiative had been so successful, the university would now apply it to its bachelor of oral health.
"We know without providing a specific support system for students of rural and regional origin, they will be in competition with students who have advantage in terms of their educational opportunities who come from metro areas," she said.
"It's important we recognise that students who come from rural and regional origins will ultimately, once they graduate, return into those communities in which they come from and settle down and work."
Dr Martin said it was vital to see growth in these courses, particularly with regional students.
"We always hope to fill the course with students from rural and regional areas, because we know they are more likely to fill rural workforce needs after they graduate," she said.
"Many communities in rural and regional Victoria are crying out for more dentists and oral health professionals. In some areas waiting lists to see dentists are weeks, or even months. And for public dental services, people are waiting years."
Bendigo Orthodontic Specialists orthodontist Haylea Blundell opened her practice this month and has already seen a need for more dentists in regional areas.
"I have only opened my practice three weeks ago and I have already had referrals from Swan Hill, patients from Birchip and patients down in Colac because there are a few orthodontists that live and work in regional areas but they are quite inundated and there is a long waitlist," she said.
"It's nice I can be in Bendigo and provide that service and help reduce that waitlist for patients waiting for orthodontic treatment."
Originally from Bendigo, Dr Blundell recently returned home from Queensland where she undertook her specialist orthodontic training.
She said it was important to come back to Bendigo to provide services in the in the region.
"In orthodontics there are quite a lot of jobs available, especially in rural and regional areas," she said.
"They are really looking and reaching out to new graduates and knowing that there was a possibility to come back to Bendigo, open up my own practice and help rural and regional residents who seek orthodontic treatment was really one factor that helped bring me back."
Dr Blundell said it was valuable for regional and rural students to have the opportunity to take on placements in their own towns and cities.
La Trobe University first-year dentistry students Adam Black and Cristiana Deocampo are both originally from regional areas.
They agreed the new initiative was a step in the right direction to bridging the gap in dental and oral services.
"I think because the disparities are so high between city and regional students, the push for regional students give you an opportunity," Mr Black said.
Ms Deocampo said it was exciting to see a large rural and regional representation in this year's cohort.
"As we know there is such a barrier for people who are living in rural and regional areas to access high quality health care and we have come from a regional area and seen it first-hand," she said.
"I am looking forward to being able to graduate and live and work in rural Victoria.
"It's really exciting that La Trobe is being able to embrace rural and regional Victoria with being a regional centre. I think one of their main goals is to have their graduates live and work and return to their regional home.
"To be able to have that more direct pathway in these courses that are highly competitive is really lovely for students like me."
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