How Jeanie is closing the gap in finding dental workers for rural South Australia – with Streaky Bay Dentist, Dr Carol Koch

The scarcity of dental workers in rural Australia is a problem that needs fixing. More often than not, employers in regional communities don’t have the time or resources to find new employees – especially when dental workers are not seeing the benefits and attributes of working in a regional town.

Jeanie’s Rural Workforce Integration programs fill this gap. Programs are customised to reduce the stress and cost for employers, and provide employees with optimal learning opportunities, including how to integrate into regional communities.

In Streaky Bay, Eyre Peninsula South Australia (population 1625), solo-practitioner dentist and business owner Dr Carol Koch signed up to the program when she employed new graduate, Dr Penny Teo.

Dr Carol has practiced in the EP community for 24 years and with a busy schedule of patients, found significant benefit in the program.

“This program is valuable because practices often don’t have time to recruit people and make contact with new graduates,” she says.

“There’s a crisis in finding providers in dentistry in rural areas of SA, and Jeanie is filling this gap. It’s really good to have someone else who’s done that leg work for you.”

Dr Carol had to close the Streaky Bay Dental Practice doors in March 2020 due to COVID19 and personal health reasons. It’s a solo practice that hinges on her being present, and with the forced closure she was very restricted with what she could do.

When they could open a few months later, Dr Carol was in a position where the workload was too much for a single practitioner. That’s where Jeanie stepped in.

“Jeanie had already supported me to find someone so we could at least open the clinic and keep things going, which was incredibly helpful. It was handy to have someone help point me in the right direction and take things on – otherwise I would have had to shut the doors permanently.

“This would have impacted the broader Streaky Bay community, because the next closest dentist is in Ceduna – over an hour away – which also closed in January 2020. After that, the nearest practice is 300km away.”

What key outcomes and skills has Dr Carol seen her participant, Dr Penny Teo, develop from the program so far?

Dr Penny graduated from Adelaide University with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2020. Like all new graduates, she was acutely aware that she needed clinical and non-clinical mentoring and support to consolidate her skills in the first few years after university. 

“I’d imagine this is the same for many other new graduates,” says Dr Carol.

“The Rural Workforce Integration Program provided Dr Penny access to important information delivered in person, online and nationally. Because the program is customised, Dr Penny could choose things that were valuable to her, such as coaching, accommodation subsidy, and placements at other clinics to learn more about specialist areas like aged care, hygiene, orthodontics – so she wasn’t just full time in one clinic.

“I think this is a really good program and I’m looking forward to seeing it continue.”

Why would Dr Carol recommend this program to other practices, as well as dental students/graduates?

When I finished dental school, most of us went to the country because there weren’t many jobs in the city at that stage. There weren’t any integration programs back then – you were just given an address and you went and did your job!

“All of us would have benefitted from having this kind of program years ago, but there was no effort to integrate you into the community, to introduce you to the other health workers.

“I think the Rural Workforce Integration program is a great idea and it’s critical we do something like this.”

Jeanie designs and develops Rural Workforce Integration programs for a range of organisations seeking to attract and retain skilled workforce, including the health sector. We base our programs on building relationships between organisations, communities, and employees.

To learn more, contact us here to see how our program can benefit your organisation, and in turn your rural community.

Read more about the Rural Workforce Integration here.

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