Clinical Supervisors pass on the drill

Meg Simmons and John Wakerman

Five years ago dental student Conor Harnischfeger undertook a twenty-week placement at the Flynn Drive Dental Clinic in Alice Springs under the mentorship of Meg and Bruce Simmons. Invited to return to the clinic as a new graduate he’s now the clinic’s Senior Dentist Manager, and is keen to give back and provide other students with the same positive experience that he received.

“The supervision I received during my placement was switched-on and caring and Meg and Bruce really took the time to help me develop clinically so that I felt very confident when I graduated”, says Conor.

Meg Simmons who until her recent retirement was the Senior Dentist at the clinic, received the Flinders NT Outstanding Regional Supervisor Award for Allied Health in Central Australia where she was recognised for being an exceptional clinical educator and mentor over many years. Students also commented on how she contributed to their development clinically, professionally, culturally, and personally.

“All our students come from James Cook University (JCU) and we have been able to develop a very supportive relationship with JCU. The extended length of the placements gives students exposure to life in a small town and also allows them to develop their skills in patient-centred dental practice as well as a wide range of general dental procedures and oral health promotion. We’ve had a lot of success with recruiting staff from amongst these students and it’s been great to work with them. They’ve added a lot to our clinic”, Meg said.

Conor has moved up to become a Senior Dentist at the clinic, and at the end of 2016 when Bruce retired, he took on full-time supervision of students. Conor speaks about the rewards of supervising others.

“You get to track a student’s development the whole way through because of the length of placement and their skills improve so much.

“When they arrive they have to do procedures that they can’t complete on their own, but after 4 – 5 months they are independently completing treatments.

“Students are trained in the most up-to-date procedures so you can often learn about new techniques and materials from them. It makes you think in different ways and look at certain cases more closely”.

Conor recently received the Flinders NT Supervisor Award for Commitment to Clinical Teaching, and was described by nominators as being ‘open to new ideas, up to date with the latest advances in Dentistry and encouraging students to be innovative and patient-centred in their treatment planning’.

With his rural Queensland upbringing Conor likes the smaller feel of a rural town, having a big back yard, less traffic and getting involved in local sporting activities, and is now raising his family in Alice Springs.

Flynn Drive Dental Clinic services the Central Australian region, covering a vast area from the Queensland border to the Western Australian border and from the South Australian border to Elliott, 700km north of Alice Springs. The clinic has six full time dentists, and takes four students at a time for most of the year. Students in their final-year placement get a wide range of exposure including general and children’s dentistry, visits to the correctional facility and Aboriginal communities, assisting oral surgeons both in the clinic and in hospitals, and opportunities to diagnose patients in a supervised environment.

Find out more about student placements and supervision in Central Australia

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Centre for Remote Health (CRH) Student Placement Supervision