The winner of the inaugural ADAVB BOQ Specialist Recent Graduate Bursary is now expanding her skills by acting as a mental health advocate. By Kerryn Ramsey
As a mental health advocate, Dr Amy Thompson wants to dispel the myth that you have to deal with mental health issues by yourself. “That attitude is understandable as there’s still a stigma attached to mental health,” she says. “But trying to deal with it yourself is about the worst thing you can do.”
She is unashamed to admit that she has struggled with her own mental health since she was a teenager. Going through high school and university, she experienced very low periods. At times she nearly dropped out of university because of the stress and overwhelming nature of her mental health issues. Fortunately, she was able to access professional help and has a supportive family.
Dr Thompson would like to see all aspects of mental health discussed more freely, particularly in the dental profession. “We were told from first year university that the suicide rate in our profession is very high,” she says. “Well, don’t just tell us that—put some procedures in place and give us some skills to deal with that fact. The conversation needs to be opened up.
“I’ve been very honest with my current bosses and they were completely supportive. They were happy to make allowances or small changes that really helped. If a staff member says, ‘I’ve got a cold’, the response is to encourage them to have a day off. The same equivalency should apply to mental health.
“Mental health issues can be a lifelong struggle. It’s not a condition where you say, ‘Oh, I’m better now.’”
Eventually, the dentist wants to work with students and new graduates in developing skills to overcome mental health issues.
Dr Thompson, who graduated from La Trobe University at the end of 2017, was thrilled to win the inaugural ADAVB BOQ Specialist Recent Graduate Bursary recently. The win enables her to spend up to $5000 on any ADAVB Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses of her choice.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “I didn’t think I had a chance because it’s available to graduates who completed their studies between 2011 and 2018. Being such a fresh new grad, I thought there was no way I could win against people with eight years of experience. I was very shocked.”
Dr Thompson’s path to dentistry all started with a visit to see Dr Charlie Kahwagi at Lara Dental when she was a teenager.
“I needed braces and Dr Kahwagi was very nurturing with a lovely manner,” she recalls. “At the end of my treatment, I was blown away by the results—the improvement in my confidence really changed my life. The whole experience inspired me to pursue dentistry.”
Public and private
At present, Dr Thompson splits her working week between Inspiro, a community health clinic in the suburb of Lilydale north-east of Melbourne, and Your New Dentist, a private practice in nearby Mooroolbark. Your New Dentist is owned and run by Dr Monica O’Malley, who was one of Dr Thompson’s external examiners in her fourth year.
“We ended up working together on a trip with the Royal Flying Doctor Service for a week,” says Dr Thompson. “Monica and I travelled around regional Victoria providing oral health screenings and education to school-aged children. We really hit it off and I kept in contact with her throughout my final year. I look on her as a mentor and she provided me with a lot of support. It was fantastic to work in her practice.”
While Dr Thompson learned a lot while working with Dr O’Malley, public health has always been her main passion. In early 2020 she will accept a full-time position at the Inspiro community dental clinic. “This really is a dream come true for me,” she says. “I love helping people and making a difference.”
Dr Monica O’Malley was not surprised when Dr Thompson won the bursary. “Amy has always shown herself to be committed to further education and exploring opportunities to expand her horizons,” she says. “She is passionate about grassroots community engagement, has a great sense of adventure and is someone who is very open to new experiences. She’s also willing to engage with the stories us older folk tell about how the industry has evolved and continues to do so. With her compassion, humility and courage, Amy is an asset to the profession. I’m excited to see how her career develops. I feel she is destined to make an impact no matter what path she chooses.”
Spending the win
For now, Dr Thompson has the enjoyable task of deciding how to spend her bursary. With her ambition to be an exceptional general dentist in the public sector, she plans to spread the money across different courses that will increase her knowledge and skills.
“It’s actually very hard to decide how to spend the bursary—I want to upskill in every area,” says Dr Thompson. “I have been doing a bit of research into geriatric care and dementia clients. It would be great to focus on providing treatment and services for our ageing population.
“At our community dental clinic, clients in need of complicated extractions or minor oral surgery are often referred to the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne. Unfortunately, the wait lists can be very long. I’d like to do courses in both those areas so we’re not referring as many patients. When I think of what I’ll be doing in five years’ time, I still see myself in public dentistry. I’m not aiming to specialise or provide high-end cosmetic treatment. I just want to do good basic bread-and-butter dentistry that provides a much-needed service to the public.”