Demonstrating expertise

“You’ve got to get out of your brains and into your hands.”

That’s what Dr Glenda Farmer tells the students she supervises at the Melbourne Dental School (MDS) as part of its clinical demonstrator program.

Glenda (BDSc, 1981), a practising dentist and MDS alumna, is one of 300-plus clinicians who give their time to share their industry experience and knowledge with MDS students.

The program is an essential course component that helps students translate their theoretical education into something that will add value when establishing their careers – the practical application of real-life clinical skills.

Glenda has been with the program for more than 25 years and believes this kind of teaching is indispensable.

“The skill set that you can provide students from being in private practice is the ten million things that people who lecture don’t come across: how to interact with staff, different communication skills and so on,” says Glenda. “It’s taking that written knowledge and making it more than that.”

Clinicians in the program – the majority of whom are MDS alumni – volunteer their time for anywhere from once a week to once a semester or yearly, to a class of six to 12 students.

“It’s a model that’s used around the world,” explained Professor Mike Morgan, former Head of the MDS.

“The demonstrators are drawn from the profession – they’re either dentists, oral health therapists or hygienists, and they come in and supervise the students.”

It’s that industry insight that really gives students an advantage, says Mike.

“They’re not just being taught by academics, but taught by the people for whom they might eventually work.”

Dr John Boucher (BDSc, 1978) has been giving his time as a demonstrator in the program for over 30 years, beginning just two years after his own graduation from the Melbourne Dental School.

“It was fabulous – I was taught how to teach by the people who had taught me,” he says.

John, who has seen many generations of dentists through their studies and into successful careers, says he enjoys the change of perspective that working with students offers.

I particularly like mixing working and interacting with young people. I used to be that young! It gives you a different view on things and it helps you in your other areas. Teaching helps you learn.

Glenda agrees that giving her time to the program is rewarding in many ways.

“I did it originally because I thought it would help keep me up to date,” she says. “But it makes you think in a different way. You do it for the connection with the students and because you’d like to see them grow – to take them on a journey that will take them into a good practising life.”

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