Objectives: To describe the development and implementation of a new rural dental outplacement module in the final year curriculum and report initial student perceptions.
Methods: The Melbourne Dental School, University of Melbourne, introduced a required 4-week rural outplacement [termed Rural Dental Rotation (RDR)] in July 2006 to provide education and clinical training to all final year students. Seventy dental students (Bachelor of Dental Science and Bachelor of Oral Health) were rostered in groups of 6—10 students to Shepparton (Victoria, Australia), from July 2006 to June 2007 for 4 weeks per group. Students were introduced to the culture and oral health needs of the indigenous population in the region, and were involved in oral health promotion in specific health programmes. At the end of each roster students provided feedback of their experiences through a voluntary anonymous questionnaire.
Results: The RDR offered a rural learning experience to all final year dental undergraduates and also provided dental services to the local community on a continuing basis. Students agreed that the RDR was a worthwhile experience (mean 4.77 ± 0.46 on 1—5 scale) and was ‘enjoyable’ (mean 4.71 ± 0.45). There was only one student who did not consider rural practice in future. This was because of family reasons. The majority (79.1%) expressed definite affirmation, whereas some (19.4%) indicated the possibility of taking up rural practice.
Conclusions: Overall feedback indicated that the students found it a very positive and enjoyable experience. It provided an opportunity to appreciate cultural safety and understand the specific oral health needs of indigenous Australians. The key benefit of such a programme to the community is the increased likelihood of attracting new dental graduates to rural areas.