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Students work with people in need

Shay Taylor and Ishani Sukumaran work with a patient

Final year Otago University dentistry students Shay Taylor and Ishani Sukumaran work with real-life patient Derek Biddle as part of the Tairāwhiti Interprofessional Education Programme for which Tūranga Health is one of the hosts.

Since suffering a cardiac arrest in early 2019 Derek Biddle has been under the care of Tūranga Health, and it is thanks to its relationship with the Tairāwhiti Interprofessional Education Programme(external link) that he got the dental care he needed . . . for free.

“That was just amazing,” he says. “It has been seven months since my heart attack but I still have only 20% of its function and, for now, that's keeping me out of work. If I couldn't get the dental work done this way, it wouldn't have happened.”

As part of the Interprofessional Education Programme, final-year students in disciplines from medicine and dentistry to nursing and paramedicine get to spend five weeks in Tairāwhiti, where they work with real patients in real-life situations.

“It was a chance to get some really important work done so I jumped at it,” says Derek, whose work was carried out by University of Otago dental students Shay Taylor and Ishani Sukumaran.

“They might not yet be fully qualified but they were totally professional. They fully earned my trust.”

Tairāwhiti Interprofessional Education Programme leader Natasha Ashworth says the student placements occur five times a year and Tūranga Health is a regular host across all disciplines.

“We love working with them because they always come up with really innovative ideas that students have been able to work on over the years,” Natasha says.

“They put a lot of thought into what might be of most benefit to their whānau so the student can work on, say, research or creating a resource that can be used going forward. It's good for Tūranga Health whānau, and it's an invaluable experience for the students.”

That has a positive spin-off for the wider community in that, according to Natasha Ashworth, around 13% of visiting students later return to work in Tairāwhiti.

“So, for us, it's a really important part of our recruiting strategy going into the future – the community doesn't just get health professionals . . . it gets really engaged young professionals who are eager to contribute.”

And both Shay Taylor and Ishani Sukumaran agree that as well as giving them invaluable professional experience, their East Coast experience has opened their eyes to options for their futures.

“We can't overstate just how much we learn by going into communities and working with people with complex health needs,” Shay says.

“As well as that, absolutely everyone we've dealt with have been so warm and welcoming,” adds Ishani. “The opportunity to get to know communities around the country will really help us make decisions around future placements.”

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