On the 8th of January 2017, twelve third year Oral Health Therapy (OHT) students and two clinical supervisors from the University of Newcastle (UON) travelled to Cambodia through Antipodeans to commence a much looked forward to overseas clinical placement. First stop was the city of Phnom Penh where we spent the first 13 days. Upon arriving, we were met by our tour guide Thida. Thida was caring, patient and highly knowledgeable as she immersed us in the beautiful Cambodian culture and taught us terms of the official Khmer language to utilise on our trip. Some of these words were ‘Soursdei’ hello, ‘Soum’ please, ‘aakun’ thank you, ‘ot te’ no, ‘Ha-ha’ open. We learnt to address females as sister or lady, and males as brother.

Visiting the Royal Palace was a must do. Entering the front gates of the palace was like entering a whole new world. The palace was full of great
buildings, beautiful gardens with the most serene environment. Watching the Cambodian traditional dance show at the National museum in Cambodia was phenomenal. The dancers and musicians were amazing with the most beautiful costumes and outstanding choreography. Now that we had a taste for Cambodia, it was time to make a difference.

Our team of 14 was split up into two groups. Group A was assigned to the rural PIO school Borey Sentepheap and Group B was assigned to the PIO city school Stung Meanchey. The groups swapped locations half way through them program. The school hall and class room was transformed into an oral health clinic. We were faced with several barriers such as having no suction, poor lighting, only one portable dental chair between six clinicians, with the remainder having to stand while operating. Treatment ranged from screening, topical applications of fluoride in the form of Duraphat 22,600 ppmF and silver fluoride 44,800 ppmF, hundreds of fissure sealants and restorative treatment using the Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART) approach. The working environment in Cambodia was typically hot and humid, and initially out of our comfort zone as we were so used to the great working conditions of the UON Ourimbah Oral Health Clinic. It was challenging at times, however working with a supportive UON team allowed us to easily adapt and embrace the experience. The UON OHT placement was a great opportunity, as it was a highly beneficial opportunity to utilise our clinical skills to make a difference to the young disadvantaged Cambodian children. Further, passionate local dental students from the Phnom Penh University of Health Sciences worked as translators between the local school children and the UON team. Volunteering in Cambodia was an unforgettable and highly rewarding experience. It was so difficult to leave the schools after becoming so familiar and accustomed with those involved in our placement and especially the young Cambodian

Following our placement, we traveled to Siem Reap where we spent our last few days exploring the cafes, markets and sights of Siem Reap. Further, we visited Bayon Temple, Ta Prohn and Ankor Thom. All of these sites are must do’s if you’re visiting Siem Reap. My Cambodia student placement has by far been the best opportunity I have taken part in and I will be forever grateful for the enhanced clinical skills, confidence gained and friendships made. If you are considering an overseas placement don’t think twice, just go for it! You will be faced with challenges adapting to a new culture, different working conditions and limited resources. However the skills and strength you gain from this once in a lifetime student placement is invaluable and will be treasured for the rest of your career.

A big thank you to Dr George Tsai of GT Periodontics at Broadmeadow for sponsoring our scrubs for our student placement.

Josie Aboumrad,
Third year Oral Health Therapy student
University of Newcastle

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