Posted on 5th March 2020
In the photograph of the graduating dental class of 2019, one smile shines particularly brightly: that of Dr Hira Rind’s. It’s a smile of warmth, enthusiasm and appreciation; excitement for the future and a huge amount of gratitude for those who helped her achieve her goal.
The road to becoming a dentist is rarely without obstacles, but Hira’s has some extra twists and turns. From a Yamatji Aboriginal background and as a practicing Muslim, Hira’s story goes back to the Afghan cameleers of the early 1900s, brought to the Australian outback to service the inland pastoral industry by carting goods and transporting wool bales by camel trains.
“My great grandfather was an Afghan cameleer who married a Yamatji Aboriginal woman,” she explains. “They had four children, including my maternal grandfather.”
Born in Port Hedland, Hira spent her early years in nearby Pannawonica, with her Yamatji/Afghan mother, Afghan father and three siblings. She moved to Perth aged five, where her parents instilled a love of learning.
“My parents didn’t go to university but were very supportive of us getting a good education,” she recalls. “I didn’t know I was going to be a dentist, but I did know that I wanted to work in healthcare. I wanted to give back.
“My mum has diabetes, along with most of my mum’s family. My grandfather passed away from a heart attack in his 60s. Growing up, I thought it was normal for your family to always be ill and sick – but it’s not! It took me a long time to realise that it wasn’t normal. I looked around and saw so much trauma, drug abuse and mental illness from the stolen generation, so I wanted to do something.”
Inspired by older cousins – one a doctor, another a native-title lawyer – Hira set her sights on UWA, with the knowledge that the School of Indigenous Studies would provide a huge source of support, as it had done for other members of her family.
“I did want to do dentistry, but I didn’t think I was smart enough,” she admits. Instead, Hira pursued Public Health and Human Anatomy, obtaining a position at BHP after graduation.
“I was in the health and safety team, but I didn’t feel like I was giving back. I then moved to the Department of Health as a project officer in Aboriginal health. That was really motivating.
“But still, I wanted to do dentistry. I was held back by pure self-doubt. In the end, motivated by an Aboriginal nurse – my mentor at work – I decided to go for it. I said I’d take one day at a time.”
Again, it was the School of Indigenous Studies that supported Hira and spurred her on.
“That first year was intense but it was really good. Everyone was supportive and I met some lovely people. Maria at OCHWA became my dental mum, and upper–year students always helped as well.
“If I didn’t know something, I’d go and ask. I wasn’t a high-distinction student, but I really wanted to learn as much as possible.”
It’s this willingness to learn that will stand Hira in good stead as a dentist – plus, her natural empathy. “I try to treat patients with love and respect,” she says. “I think what got me through dental school was being good to my patients, taking it day by day, working hard, studying hard and supporting others. I made some good friends and we were all very supportive of each other.”
Hira recently began working at a dental practice in Karratha – a position obtained via Rural Health West. “Mentally and spiritually it was important for me to go to a different environment. I also wanted to work at a practice that offered mentorship.”
While she’ll inevitably miss her parents in Perth, Hira knows this move to the Pilbara is the right one. “They are so happy. They are very proud, but at the same time have said: ‘You have finished your degree, now it is time to give back.’ Our parents have always taught us to be humble, to be kind to others and to always give back when you can.”
Hira’s advice to young people considering a career in dentistry is to be proud of who you are – and to take the help that’s offered along the way.
“Don’t be ashamed of your identity and your family and your history. Just be confident and know that you will always have support. Take the help that is offered and enjoy the journey.”