Six years in to her career as a dentist, Dr Simone Lancaster had started to fall out of love with the profession.
Working in a high-end practice on the Gold Coast where tea is served to patients upon arrival and dental anxiety is common, Simone was keen to experience life outside the city.
"My hubby Dan is a nurse, and has worked on cruise ships and overseas, and has seen quite a bit of Australia; but I have lived, studied and worked my whole life in the Gold Coast,” Simone said.
"We talked about relocating, but it seemed a huge step to move away from friends and families just to quell some itchy feet.”
Simone can't recall who suggested the idea of a working holiday, but the concept quickly grew in appeal and soon they had a 4WD, a caravan home, and were ready for their working lap of Australia
Simone and Dan headed to New South Wales initially, returning to the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games, and then headed anti-clockwise across Australia, working in Cairns, Broome, Mt Isa, Katherine and Karratha.
"The patients and pathologies in rural and remote Australia were poles apart from the Gold Coast, and I really enjoyed the change of focus.
“My work on the Gold Coast is largely cosmetic and preventative. In the bush, there was much more emergency work; some days I would spend six hours performing extractions.
"In Normanton, I arranged for a thee-year old girl to be medi-vacced to hospital as a tooth infection had spread and was threatening her eye.
“It can be alarming to see the level of dental neglect in some patients, which results from a lack of education and health literacy and limited access to services. I found it confronting and emotional at times, but incredibly rewarding that I could play a role in helping people in these communities."
While Simone and Dan had a rough plan of their route and an aim to work 12 weeks off/ 12 weeks on, they didn't line up any locum work prior to hitting the road.
"We definitely winged it as that gave us more flexibility with our travel plans.
“As a dentist it was slightly harder for me to find work than Dan - so it was typically me lining up work in a location we wanted to visit and once I had something confirmed Dan would contact the local hospital - which worked really well.
"In Western Australia, I contacted Rural Health West for a list of dental practices and then got in touch with the principal dentists to see if they might be interested in taking leave or having an extra set of hands for a while.
"It is so doable for anyone with similar professions and there is such an enormous need out there!
"In Broome, I worked for the Dental Health Service, relieving a new dad so that he could take paternity leave after the birth of his child.
“Then in Karratha, I took on a maternity leave contract in a private practice. The principal dentist had returned to work when her son was only a few months old as she couldn't find a replacement, and didn't want to leave the community or her associate dentist in the lurch.
“I really enjoyed my time mentoring the associate as I was previously the youngest dentist in my practice on the Gold Coast, so it was a new experience for me!
"My stint in Mt Isa was actually on a fly-in/fly-out basis from Broome - they were so desperate for someone to help out. I would fly in to Mt Isa then travel out to remote communities in Normanton, Cloncurry and Doomadgee.”
Simone would recommend the experience to anyone who wants to see other parts of Australia or revitalise their practise.
“I’ve regained my passion for dentistry over the past two years of our working holiday.
“It can be a huge leap of faith to take on this type of adventure without roles lined up in advance, however there is a huge need out there for us to support out rural colleagues and country communities.”
Rural Health West provides a complimentary service to match dentists seeking short-term placements and rural practices looking for locum dentists. Travel subsidies are also available. Contact Brooke.Wilson@ruralhw.com.au
NB: Simone’s working holiday took place before the COVID-19 pandemic