Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Dr Mohammed Sohail Memon has helped hundreds of overseas-trained dentists begin their professional journeys in Australia, making a lasting difference to the careers of the migrants themselves as well as the communities they serve. By Angela Tufvesson
For overseas-trained dentists keen to work in Australia, the notorious Australian Dental Council (ADC) exams can prove a major stumbling block. The rigorous set of written and practical exams swallow a lot of time and money, and significant differences in modes of teaching and expectations of dental professionals in Australia compared to overseas mean many students struggle to pass.
The problem was immediately obvious to Dr Mohammed Sohail Memon when he arrived in Australia in 2009. So, the academic and private practitioner, who came to study a PhD at the University of Sydney after a successful career in Pakistan, started tutoring newly arrived dentists in everything from crowns, bridges and fillings to the intricacies of prosthodontics—his area of expertise.
Dr Memon’s previous experience in both teaching and clinical practice—and as a migrant himself—proved an asset for dentists undertaking postgraduate study at the university and gearing up for the ADC exams.
“I used to sit with ADC candidates after my teaching, research or whenever I had time, giving them assessments,” he says. “Then I started giving practical demonstrations. At that stage it was just voluntary, and it was very helpful to them because they began to pass the exam.”
Word spread quickly and in 2015, a year after passing his own ADC exams and completing his PhD, Dr Memon formalised the business, naming it Haside (Hadiqa & Ahmed Sohail Institute of Dental Education) Australia after his children and adopted home. He says it was the first organisation of its kind in Sydney to prepare candidates for the ADC exams.
“I was one of the pioneers who developed the training and created awareness that students need proper training to build their skills rather than doing the exam a couple of times, only to waste their money and efforts.”
Filling in the gaps
Dr Memon arrived in Australia with a wealth of international experience, having studied and worked in the Philippines, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, Pakistan. Owing to his academic credentials—he was an associate professor in restorative dentistry and head of the Department of Prosthodontics at Hamdard University in Karachi—he quickly landed a lecturer position alongside his PhD studies, and later worked part-time in private practice.
This diverse background helped Dr Memon spot the difficulties faced by many overseas-trained dentists. “What I understood and realised is the differences in the training, the requirements of each system and the various approaches,” he says. “I knew what had been taught to these students and the expectations of them in Australia.”
Many overseas-trained dentists, he says, have limited understanding of the professional and cultural landscape. And some have very little clinical training, which impacts on their ability to pass the practical component of the ADC exam and forge a career in Australia. “Mostly they are trained theoretically, with a little training in the pre-clinical,” says Dr Memon. “They might have gone to private institutions and colleges that don’t have a good teaching structure.”
So, Haside Australia aims to build foundational skills with a particular focus on clinical competences. “We do a lot of practical demonstrations to help students improve their skills to the level where they can pass the ADC exams,” Dr Memon says.
Because each overseas-trained dentist that arrives in Australia has a unique skill set, Dr Memon says the training is customised to suit the individual. Each student is assessed, and focus areas are identified. “Then, based on my teaching experience, I help to develop their skill to the required level,” he says.
At last count, Haside Australia has helped hundreds of overseas-trained dentists from a whopping 24 countries pass the ADC exams. “I feel so proud when I see my students, the people who were struggling, now enjoying successful dental careers in Australia,” Dr Memon says.
In particular, helping overseas-trained dentists alleviate the financial, psychological and relationship stress they often endure on the journey to professional recognition in their adopted home is especially rewarding.
“A lot of students make so many sacrifices to get to this point,” Dr Memon says. “Many students who are married do not have children because of the pressure. Others are burdened by loans or family pressure. When they finally pass the exams, they are so relieved.”
So successful is Haside Australia that Dr Memon has big plans to use his international experience and network of contacts around the world to take the business global once the pandemic subsides—as well as maintain his current academic posting at Charles Sturt University and his work in private practice.
“We won’t limit ourselves to ADC exam training, instead adding other advanced trainings, some certificate courses and continuing education. There’s a lot of demand among dental students who want to work in Australia or other places outside their home countries.”
Dr Memon plans to settle in Australia long-term but hopes to maintain ties with Pakistan through the expansion. “I have helped a lot of Pakistani students here, guiding them in their career development, and I still help a lot of students who come to me for advice.
“From Australia, I can share practical and theoretical skills with students. If you have training and it’s well organised, systematic and evidence-based, it makes a huge difference to the quality of dentistry services.”