After graduating from Charles Sturt University’s Bachelor of Dental Science with Distinction and a number of awards, Dr Grace Munns was excited to finally embark on her regional dentistry career.
The NSW Central Coast local, who studied in Orange for five years, landed her first job at The Happy Tooth in Kurri Kurri in December 2019.
The first couple of weeks were ‘a blur’ for Grace (pictured above) as she navigated the typical on-the-job challenges newly-qualified dentists face.
“I am very fortunate to have secured my first job at a very busy practice,” she said.
“When I very first started my role, one of the most challenging things I found when was the exhaustion at the end of the day.
“I went from seeing approximately four patients a day at university to working and seeing double or triple that at times.
“This can be overwhelming for new graduates because treating patients with pain is very daunting as they often require more complex management and diagnosis, treatment planning and then provision of treatment in a short period of time.”
Grace had just adjusted to the challenges of her new role at the busy practice when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Being new to the industry and being thrown into a pandemic as a frontline health professional, with certain restrictions, was stressful at times,” Grace said.
“Dentistry already has very strict infection control standards, however, we did have additional protective equipment and very strict screening to ensure the safety of our staff and patients.
“During the peak of the pandemic we were restricted to providing only emergency treatment with minimal generation of aerosols.
“Even though I felt like I was in the deep end at the start of the pandemic – having to find my feet as a graduate in addition to the new COVID-19 restrictions – it has actually been a good thing to help improve my confidence and autonomy as a clinician.”
Grace said the close connections she has to Charles Sturt alumni she graduated with more than six months ago have been invaluable to her as a new dentist.
Not only have Grace and her former classmates been helping their patients during the pandemic, they have also been helping each other by keeping in touch with tips, advice and support.
“We’ve been discussing not only how we were all managing our new roles and patients, but also how we are managing during the pandemic,” she said.
“Being frontline health workers who can’t really social distance in our occupation due to the nature of our treatments has been challenging and caused stress and anxiety.
“Having university friends and colleagues as a support network has been so helpful.
“I’ve also been very fortunate to find myself in an incredibly supportive practice with fantastic mentors.”
Even though Grace’s first year working as a dentist has been filled with unexpected challenges, she says its her patients who have reaffirmed for her that, despite the challenges, she has made the right career move.
“I love working in a regional area and I am fortunate to work in an industry where I see a wide variety of patients each presenting with diverse needs, which helps me to gain experience in all different aspects of dentistry,” Grace said.
“Even just doing a simple check-up on a young child and helping them to have a fun experience, which then develops a positive attitude towards dentistry, is very rewarding and is one thing that reaffirmed to me that I made the right decision to become a dentist.
“As dentists we have a unique ability to relieve pain, improve someone’s smile or help restore their ability to eat comfortably.
“This can impact greatly on their quality of life, which is truly rewarding.”
Grace hopes to one day expand her professional training and specialise in paediatric dentistry.
“I’ve always had a very keen interest in paediatric dentistry, which is something I have been able to continue pursuing while in my current practice as we are very family-oriented,” she said.
“I intend to pursue a fellowship with the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons in the coming years, but I am currently enjoying finding my feet as a new graduate general dentist.”
For the next wave of graduates set to embark on their dental careers, Grace shared a few pieces of advice.
“My advice to future dentists would be to not settle for the first job offer you get. Make sure you look into the practice and try and spend some time observing it if possible to make sure the practice suits you and your morals and values,” she said.
“Your first graduate year is such an exciting time, but is the steepest learning curve you will experience and has many challenges.
“Finding yourself in the wrong workplace will just add excess stress and prevent you from reaching your true potential.”