Celebrating NAIDOC Week: School of Indigenous Studies at UWA

Posted on 3rd November 2020

Jade Drummond

The School of Indigenous Studies at UWA has been a great support for final-year dentistry student, Jade Drummond.

Jade once worked at a bank, with the long, repetitive days leaving her feeling unmotivated and uninterested. Wanting to be challenged and find meaning, Jade chose to pursue a career in health. “I believed that becoming a health professional and making a difference in someone’s life would be both challenging and rewarding,” she recalls. “So far, that’s exactly what it has been.

“I also understood at the time that manual dexterity was important in dentistry, and since I’ve always loved arts and crafts the idea of getting a job that involved working with my hands seemed ideal,” she adds. “I also knew that if I had a family one day, I wanted to be able to support them well, and dentistry provides flexibility with work hours and is financially rewarding.”

Jade says the study load of dentistry is one of the most challenging things she has faced in her life.

“This is because education was never a top priority in my family, so it just wasn’t in my nature to go to university,” she says. “But since I always threw myself in the deep end, I chose one of the hardest degrees I could find and never looked back. At the time I had no idea how challenging dentistry was going to be because no one in my family had ever studied a degree in science before, let alone dentistry.”

Two years into her degree, Jade says she could not balance her studies with her personal life, and it impacted heavily on her mental health.

“I kept all of this to myself until finally I told a very close friend in my class about how I wasn’t coping, and she urged me to talk to the School and ask for help,” she says. “This friend even came with me and spoke on my behalf when I didn’t have the courage to ask for help myself.

“The School listened to every word and came up with a plan that I could manage. Even though I still struggle with some of the workload today, I know I have so much support, no matter what happens, and it has given me a sense of relief.

“There is a lot of pressure on dental students because not only is the theoretical content difficult to learn, but there is also a practical aspect of dentistry that cannot be taught from a textbook. Some things you learn for the first time with a patient in front of you.

“The most challenging part of dentistry for me was definitely the theoretical content and the time management,” she adds. “This all seemed worth it once I started seeing patients and doing more practical work.

“The most rewarding part of my degree so far would be the trust I’ve built with my patients and their satisfaction with their treatment, which assures me that I must be doing something right. This is important to me because I know that it’s very difficult or sometimes impossible to make progress with a patient that just doesn’t trust you.”

Jade says she found out about the School of Indigenous Studies (SIS) in high school and attended the science camp as part of an outreach program at UWA.

“Because I’m from the Kimberley, initially traveling to Perth for university seemed so far away and scary, but I soon realised that the SIS weren’t just hosting the science camp I attended, they were also supporting Indigenous university students throughout their degree,” Jade says.

“Knowing that I would be supported and that I would have a safe place to go and people to talk to, eliminated any worries I had about moving to Perth to study, so that’s what I did. The fact that there were other Indigenous students at SIS coming from small towns and communities also reassured me that I wouldn’t be alone. I also completed the Aboriginal Orientation Course through SIS to gain entry into university. Even throughout my undergraduate degree, and now in my final year of dentistry, the SIS still check in with me to see how I’m going.”

The School of Indigenous Studies reminded Jade that she can do anything she sets her mind to. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she says. “The SIS offer guidance and inform students about study opportunities and pathways that some of us otherwise wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for them. They also offer tutoring, advice on financial support and accommodation, and also a study space where Indigenous students can feel at home.”

It is clear Jade wants to make a difference, saying that when she finishes her studies, she hopes to work with other health professionals in the Kimberley to explore new and existing ways of eliminating the existing “gap” in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. “I understand that focusing on oral health behaviours in isolation is not sustainable, and so I hope to also work with other members of the community in a holistic approach towards health,” she says.

“My goal is to provide a sustainable dental service to all members of the community, encouraging autonomy amongst patients to take control of their own health, with a focus on education and prevention.

“Knowing that I will have the potential to help in closing the gap in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians makes all the hard work worth it.”

This story first appeared in the November edition of the Western  Articulator magazine. Read the full article here.