Committed to the Country

Since graduating, Madeleine Allan (DDS 2021) has been living and working in Yarrawonga after being recruited by fellow Melbourne Dental School graduate, Paul Hwin (BDSc 2013).

Madeleine: “I grew up in Colac in country Victoria and had my heart set on dentistry from the early years of high school. So, I initially studied biomedical science at La Trobe University and then came to the University of Melbourne to do dentistry.

I was fortunate enough to receive the Marina and Alexis Keskevich scholarship, which supports rural students through the four-year dental degree. That was extremely significant, as it helped pay for my degree. I am so grateful for this support. Because I didn’t have to worry about my financial situation, I could focus on my studies more.

For me, the highlight of Melbourne Dental School was my final year on rural placements, when I went to Shepparton, Cobram and Moe. It finally felt very real when I started working with patients – there’s only so much you can learn through theory and working on plastic teeth!

I knew that once I graduated, I wanted to work in rural Victoria. I like country life and can’t cope with city living. When I saw an ad on Facebook for a rural practice in Yarrawonga I applied. It was the first job I applied for, and I was lucky to get it.

My working day is always so varied but I love that there’s always an answer to someone’s problem. Medicine can have lots of open ends but, in dentistry, most times you can offer people an immediate solution.

As an associate dentist a typical day might mean seeing a couple of emergency patients with broken teeth, toothache or broken dentures. I’ll do fillings, root canals, preparations for crowns, cleans and routine check-ups. In rural practice, you have to be able to do a lot of things because it’s not so easy for patients to access specialists. Patients range from kids and young families to the elderly and I meet people from all walks of life.

I love living and working regionally as life is a little slower and I feel that people are friendlier. I feel you can develop a more relaxed relationship with patients, which makes the dental experience more comfortable for them. I also love the fact that nature and the outdoors are right on my doorstep.

I became involved in sport straight away and joined the local football and netball club in Yarrawonga. When this season wrapped up, we won the A Grade premiership in the Ovens and Murray football and netball league. I’ve made some lifelong friends who are more than willing to ensure I’m settled in Yarrawonga.”

Paul Hwin: “In Year 12, I thought I would go to university and do commerce but I did better than I expected and I remember my Mum saying, ‘You’re 18 and you may not know what you want to do with the rest of your life. You can get into dentistry and if you don’t like it, you can swap to commerce, but if you do commerce then you won’t be able to swap into dentistry’.

I’m glad I listened to her! It didn’t take long for me to realise I enjoyed dentistry. I liked the hands-on learning and some of the students I met then are still great friends. During the final year I travelled to Gippsland and Shepparton for placements for 11 weeks – that was my first experience of living away from home and after that I decided I wanted to work in regional and rural areas.

When a friend got a job in Ballarat, I cold called practices there and got a job at a six-chair dental clinic that had great mentorship and a great culture. I worked there for two years full-time and then bought my own practice. I now have practices in Doncaster, Yarrawonga, Corowa and Cobram.

I’m a people person and in the country there’s a community feel that you don’t get as much in Melbourne. I go to the coffee shop, see the same people, I know what is going on in their lives and they know what is going on in mine. I like that sense of connection.

At dental school we’re taught how to do the technical work with our hands, but it’s important to learn how to communicate and connect with patients. When you work regionally and rurally, people are trusting and I think it’s a great place for young dentists to get experience.

You can upskill quickly because access to specialists can be difficult. So, there’s an opportunity to learn more complex skills like wisdom teeth surgery, cosmetic and rehabilitative work and orthodontic treatment.

I’ve been hiring and training graduates for more than seven years and when Madeleine applied for a position in Yarrawonga, she stood out. She sold me her story – she’s a country girl through and through and she understands community so we knew she’d fit in well. She is an important part of our team and I’m incredibly proud of Madeleine and her journey.”