Kiwi students learn from Samoa’s finest

By Emily Dunn ,

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GOING TO WORK IN SAMOA: Dental students Hannah and Rupert in action at Apia’s national hospital in Moto’otua.

GOING TO WORK IN SAMOA: Dental students Hannah and Rupert in action at Apia’s national hospital in Moto’otua.

The first intake of Dentistry students from Otago University for a five-week placement at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in Moto’otua has been a huge success.

Having started last year, the programme founded and supervised by Dr. Peter Sese of Samoa, has continued to gain prestige among the students from New Zealand.

This year’s successful applicants are Hannah Maher and Rupert Wockner. 

Both aged 23, they have recently finished their placements and only have great things to say about their time in Samoa.

 “We feel hugely privileged to be here in Samoa; we have some very jealous classmates back home.” 

Due to the rural nature of the hospitals in both Upolu and Savai’i, the island’s Dentists must be ready for anything that comes their way, resulting in an extensive skill set. 

 “The scope of practice of a Samoan Dentist is far wider than you’d normally see; there’s no specialists, so they have to be able to do absolutely everything,” Rupert said.

 As a consequence, the trainees have had exposure to a wide variety of dental problems and been given the opportunity to practice procedures usually undertaken by the surgical team.

With the aim of returning to their respective rural villages in mind, having a wide knowledge is a particularly important, and arguably one of the reasons for their selection. 

The Samoan dental team has been able to provide a rare experience with an abundance of hands-on work. 

The trainees said they believe they gained as much experience in extraction during their five-week placement, as a year in New Zealand’s private practice would afford. 

With such a high prevalence of dental issues in Samoa, perhaps it’s worthwhile to investigate the root of the problem. 

Rupert argued that there is an “underlying problem in the way some individuals in Samoa perceive their health and how they value it.” 

Hannah added that she believes that “both oral and general health is not high on the priority list” of the Samoan people.

To tackle this fixed mind set is no easy task.

However, Dr. Sese and Dr. Loapo and the entire dental team have accepted the challenge. 

Rupert praised their work.

“Peter Sese is incredibly active in the promotion of oral health in Samoa, there’s no way we’d be here without him.” 

He expressed gratitude to the team.

“They’ll take the time to sit with you and teach you what they know,” he said.

This is not an experience they take for granted back in busy New Zealand. The pair attributes this to the Samoan culture and its ability to always ensure its visitors feel welcomed.

This atmosphere unquestionably stretches outside the clinic. 

They agreed that one of the main reasons behind their applications to study in Samoa was that “everyone speaks really highly of the Samoan culture and the hospitality.” 

The “vibrant culture”, as Rupert observed, kept them busy during their time off, diving to the depths of Savai’i’s corals, exploring the Return to Paradise beach, and relaxing with yoga beside the sea. 

With a trip to the dentist rarely at the top of most people’s wish list, communication is vital to effectively placate their patients. 

Developing not only their dental skills, the students both felt that their experience here in Samoa has “been such an eye opener in terms of developing cultural awareness and sensitivity.” 

The language barrier has forced them to adapt and cultivate new ways of co-operating with patients. 

 “It’s guaranteed that for the rest of our lives we will be treating patients from Polynesia, indigenous New Zealand and Samoa,” said Rupert, thus signifying the invaluable nature of their experience here in Samoa.  

The next pair of students will be arriving on the island in July. 

Let’s hope they find the unique experience of studying in Samoa equally as enjoyable and worthwhile. And that they are able to throw themselves into island life, following in Rupert and Hannah’s footsteps.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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