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31 May 2014 | Auxiliary

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Scholarships open pathways to dentistry for Aboriginal Australians

Indigenous Health Philanthropy, Charity and Volunteering

The University of Sydney's Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, along with the Rotary Club of Sydney, are leading a much-needed initiative to increase the number of Aboriginal people trained in oral healthcare in a bid to dramatically improve dental health in Aboriginal communities.

The Poche Centre has joined forces with the Armajun Aboriginal Health Service, Rotary Club of Sydney, the University's Faculty of Dentistry and the Centre for Oral Health Strategy NSW to launch the Aboriginal Oral Health Scholarships. The scheme will offer financial assistance for at least 24 Aboriginal people to study the Certificate III in Dental Assisting and/or the Certificate IV in Dental Assisting (Oral Health Promotion).

The project will provide training for Aboriginal people living in regional and remote areas of NSW to become qualified dental assistants and also assist pathways into higher education studies such as oral health therapy or dentistry. The scholarships will enable Aboriginal recipients to remain in their community and maintain employment and local activities.

Poche Centre director, Kylie Gwynne, said the initiative is an important bid to improve the health of Aboriginal people by increasing the number of Aboriginal oral health clinicians.

"Aboriginal people are less likely to have received preventive dental care, and more likely to have untreated dental disease," she said.

"The dental health of Aboriginal Australians is significantly worse than other Australians. Poor oral health impacts on school attendance and participation, nutrition and the likelihood of developing chronic diseases.

"Aboriginal people are increasingly represented in areas such as nursing, medicine and allied health but this is not the case in oral health.

"We hope these scholarships build clear pathways for the Aboriginal oral health clinicians of the future. Improving the oral health of Aboriginal children is fundamental to Closing the Gap in life expectancy."

Armajun Aboriginal Health Service CEO, Debbie McCowen, said there are very few Aboriginal dentists or dental healthcare workers in the community.

"Aboriginal health workers are the front line of Aboriginal health in Australia and are the primary link between Aboriginal clients and specialist services," she said. "By adding this qualification, Aboriginal health workers will be better able to assist their clients and community in oral health."

Candidates for the scholarships may be:

  • In year 11 or 12 of high school and seeking a vocational pathway;
  • Already be working as dental assistants (without qualifications); or
  • Aboriginal health workers interested in an additional qualification.

Each scholarship is valued at $15,000 and over two years will provide:

  • One-on-one mentoring for each of the scholarship recipients;
  • Course fees;
  • Computer and internet access;
  • Face-to-face and online learning; and
  • Career education planning.

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