Defence Broadcast Highlights: Lieutenant Sarah Benton and Captain Michael Lines


Damian asks, is it hard to
be a dental officer? That’s a really good question. And I think it’s probably like
most jobs you encounter, but particularly jobs that have a
professional basis, are when you’re dealing with people,
particularly in a clinical setting. There are things that are hard
and there are things that are easy, and every day
is different. Putting aside the military thing
for a moment, I’ll come back to that. The dentistry side is probably
much like an experience clinically in most other
environments with a couple of key exceptions. You don’t have to
worry about the financial side of the business. You don’t have to worry about
patients being able to pay for treatments you’re
offering them. So you can make really good
treatment plants for them and achieve really good treatment
outcomes. So that side of being a dentist
in the military does make life a bit easier. Yeah. In terms of being in the
military, yeah, there are challenges with that,
like with any job. It does ask things of you that
other jobs don’t, and that’s just a reality. In Army it asks you to move
around quite a bit. It asks you to spend quite a
lot of time away from home. It asks you to do different
things. It does ask you to work strange
hours, like weekends or at night– these are just realities. In Army, there’s a lot
of physical training. I mean, it might even
be physical training three times a week. So these, again, are
just the sorts of realities we deal with. I wouldn’t say that its hard. There are parts of it that
are very challenging. But like any job, there are
things that you really enjoy doing, there are things that you
really don’t enjoy doing but you still have to
do them and any job will ask that of you. That’s my belief at
least, anyway. What do you think, Sarah? Yeah, I’d agree with
a lot of that. I think, Damian, if you’re
asking is it how to be a dental officer as opposed to a
dentist outside, then I don’t really think it’s any harder. Like Mike said, the dentistry
side of things I think, if anything, is easier. Because you don’t have those
money concerns, and you also have a lot of support in terms
of resources and being able to refer people out to specialists
and also doing the extra training. But then you do have to remember
that there is the officer component to being a
dental officer, so you don’t only have your dentist duties. But as far as being an officer
goes, I think also being a dentist, is one of the better
jobs you can have, definitely. I don’t know about in the Army,
but I think definitely in the Navy, a lot of my other
officer friends are very jealous of our job and
the hours we work. And the lack of watches
and late night duties that we have to do. So I think it’s a great job. Yeah, I have much the same
sort of duties as that– in the Army every officer has
responsibilities as a commander and as a leader, and
you have to live up to that. And they make demands on you
personally and your character. And often, you find yourself
making difficult decisions that would effect a lot
of other people– that’s just a reality. You do that in dentistry, you do
it as an officer, and they do very much link together. But yeah, it’s a great job. But I certainly wouldn’t
describe it as hard, but aspects of it can be challenging
at times, there’s no question about it. Anthony R. Asks, what are
your day-to-day duties? I’ll give this one to
you first, I think. I guess my job, there are
two aspects to it. So at the moment, I’m
just shore based. So my day-to-day duties are,
for the most part, just being a dentist. So my average day would be get
to work, start at 7:30. I’ll go for my run, come back,
shower, breakfast, all that kind of stuff. And then from 9:00 until 4:00
we’re seeing patients with a break for lunch. You’ve got to do all your
own admin type of stuff. So write out your patient
records, any referrals that you have to do. And then for half an hour at the
end of the day, we’ve got a bit more time for admin. At the moment in my department,
we have a CPD programme that we just do
them like [INAUDIBLE]. So once a month we get together
and, because we’re at a bit of a bigger base,
there’s about five dentists there. So we each month do
a presentation. We’ve got a list of topics that
we made up ourselves, so I’m working on my one of
those at the moment. As far as other military duties
go, they don’t come up too often, really. We have to do officer of the day
duty which only comes up about once every six
months for us. We’re really lucky. When you’re at sea, it’s
a little bit different. I didn’t really get slung with
too many other duties because I was only going to the ship
for a short amount of time. If you are posted to a ship
permanently, you might have to do other things like maybe the
[? heli ?] control officer, you can be a ship’s diver, and
you could do officer of the day duty at sea, and those
sorts of things. So I guess when you’re in a
deployed environment you might have more duties to do with
being an officer and managing your personnel. If you get given a division,
you’ll have your divisional duties to do. But for the most part, I
basically just do dentistry. My position’s similar. Every day in the week is
different, because the unit has a structure to each week
that you go through. And, for example, Monday you
start with PT in the morning. Tuesday you have sports
training if you’re playing a sport. Wednesday I had PT again. Thursday is sports day, and for
us that’s a half day of admin and we play sport
in the afternoon. And Friday is early PT,
so we start a bit later in the surgery. We tend not to do clinical work
on Friday afternoons. But again, I’d say that each
day is different, and that there is a routine and a
structure to the week. Basically, my duties at the
moment consist of primarily dentistry– that’s what I’m mostly doing. I do have admin duties that I’m
responsible for, because I do have soldiers who
I’m commanding. So you have responsibility for
looking out for those people and making sure their needs are
met, writing reports on them, all those sorts
of things. And we have an annual reporting
system that we have to comply with. As well as that the unit itself
does occasionally give you other tasks to do as well,
and that will vary depending on the work. One thing we’ve got coming up
is next month we’re having a Battalion parade to farewell
some people. And so we’re spending a week
practicing for that which will be absolutely awesome. Ceremonial parade, it’s
going to be great. I can hardly wait. No, seriously, it will
be good fun. So yeah, I’d say that the
day-to-day routine is centred on your clinical work, but there
are a bunch of other things that have to
work around that. Because again, you do have
an administrative load you’ve got to carry. There is, as in all dentistry,
a degree of paperwork warfare that goes on because you have
to maintain clinical records and you’ve got to keep all
that stuff up to date. So I’d say that day-to-day, it’s
centered on the clinical work and everything else fits
around that, and you govern your day accordingly. Blake asks Sarah, what sorts
of benefits did the defence force give you to help you
through university? All right, Blake. I guess the obvious things are
the years that they sponsor you for that will pay
your HECS debt. So that’s quite handy
when you finish up. You’ve only got about half
the HECS debt that everyone else does. And also, I think the main thing
that really helps is they will buy all your
textbooks for you that you need. And also, you get a wage. I’m not sure what it
is at the moment. I’m sure it’s gone up since
I went through. But that basically meant that
I didn’t have to work. Blake, I don’t know how far into
your degree you are at the moment, but you’re probably
aware that dentistry is a very time consuming
course. And I’ve definitely felt it was
beneficial that I could just go home at night and
concentrate on studying. And if I had a bit of free time
on the weekend, I could actually relax. Whereas there are some other
people in the course that were having to go and do jobs after
hours and on the weekends. So that they had no free time,
you’re flat out all the time. So I’d say that was
the biggest thing. There is also, depending on
where you’re doing your degree and if there’s a base down
there, in WA we’ve got one of our undergraduates comes down
sometimes if she just wants a bit of help with some
of her uni stuff. So if you want it, there’s
always help there available to have a bit of a mentor at the
base to help you with your dental studies, too. [? Hardy ?] asks, how does the defence force
help mentor and train new graduates? That’s a good question, I’m
glad you asked that, [? Hardy. ?] I think as a job for a new
graduate that the defence force is probably the best job
you could go for as far as dentistry goes. Because even though it may seem
a bit scary that you’re not going to be doing any
dentistry while you do your officer training, which is
a bit shorter for Army. For Air Force and Navy it is
quite a long time, it’s five or six months. When you first graduate, they
won’t send you to sea. They’re not going to send you
to a base where you’re the only dentist there. Navy, especially, will only send
you pretty much, I can’t guarantee this, to Perth, or
Sydney, and maybe Cerberus, which are the larger bases. So there will always be senior
dentists there that are experienced. And you almost get assigned one
of the other dentists to be your mentor. I mean, you can ask whoever
you want for questions. I just found someone that
I was comfortable with. But they’re always aware that
you’re a new graduate, and you have as much time as you
like to do stuff. I still, if I’m doing something
that I haven’t done for awhile, or sometimes let’s
say the patient will get you in after lunch, and I just cross
off the whole afternoon and say we’ve got as much
time as we need. Because you don’t have to worry
about trying to get through a certain amount
of patients in a day or anything like that. So in terms of mentorship, I
think it’s excellent, and no one’s going to get snappy. You ask so many questions. When I first graduated,
I felt, like, very, [? oh my god. ?] And no one really minds,
they expect that. So mentoring is really good. And as far as training goes,
there is an admin. We have things called health
directives which are guidelines on treatment and
defence policies to do with health and dentistry, and you
have to go through all of those as well with
your mentor. And there’s other training
in forensics. And you do the dental initial
course which is a little bit of a rehash of uni in
a very abridged way. And also there’s the
CPD training. You can get funding
to go and do other courses outside of uni. And plus, there’s access to
specialists, depending on which base you’re at and
which area you are. Up in north of Australia,
maybe not so much. But you’re not going to get sent
there as a new graduate. So around the major
centres, there are always specialists there. We get to know our specialists
quite well, because there’s generally– for endo, there’ll be one person
that we refer to most of the time, so he
gets to know us. And [INAUDIBLE], they guy we use
in Perth, he’s quite happy if you give him a call
and say hey, got this problem, what do you think? And he will just chat to
you over the phone. So there’s definitely a lot of
support for new graduates. The thing that we’ve got going
for us is the fact that we do have an organised programme
based on a series of competency levels. So when you’re a new graduate,
you start as a CL1. Then you progress to CL2. And the order is that when you
first come out of uni, obviously you’re brand new. And there’s a realistic
expectation of how quick you’re going to be and the sort
of things you’ll be able to take on. The aim in the first year to two
years is to get you to the stage where you can be employed
as an independent practitioner and be able to
successfully complete cases without that much supervision. Now obviously, there are going
to be limitations on that. And there are going to be
certain things that as a general practitioner you’re just
not going to take on, and that’s fine. And that’s not to say there’s
someone looking over your shoulder all the time, either. It’s more just that there’s
someone available to give you help if you need it. Yeah. And one of the key items I think
in that first year is to get you to the stage where you
can handle 90% of things without any drama, by you
recognise that 10% that you just shouldn’t even approach. And that’s a lesson
that all of us as dentists have to learn. And I think straight
out of career, we– Know when to ask for help. –refine that. Yeah, exactly. When do you stick up your hand
and get someone to come and give you a hand? But the programme to do that
here is a series of tasks you’ve got to complete before
you can be made a CL2 And your progression is based on the
recommendation of your mentor who was assigned to you– he or she is formally
assigned. Progression to CL3 is based
upon contemplation of a fellowship or doing a
graduate [INAUDIBLE] course, and that comes,
obviously, later in your career. So there is a lot of help. There’s a lot of support. You will not be put in a
position that you are uncomfortable in– they just plain force
that on you. And the aim is to get you to
the stage where you can be employed independently, that’s
what we’re really looking at. Certainly I know that next
year in Brisbane, there’s going to be quite a few new
graduates here, and there will be a lot of [? subdivision ?]
demand there. But the fact is that that’s
just what has to occur. The situation is very, very
good, and no one’s ever going to criticise you for
what you’ve done. They’ll give you suggestions and
advice, and that’s exactly what it is and they’ll
help you through. The aim is to give good
treatment to people. That’s what it’s all about, and
that’s what it’s all aimed at achieving. Darren asks, what would the
differences be between Naval and Army dentistry? What do you think? Well for me, I’m biassed, but
I think as a dentist the Navy’s got a few more
opportunities to go away and do things. So we definitely get the bulk of
the, well, at the moment I think the only overseas
deployments. So if you’re really wanting to
go away and get out there and do some operational stuff, then
the Navy’s the way to go. Also in terms of location, Mike
could probably tell you a bit more about the Army’s
centralising around Brisbane. Whereas the Navy has bases all
around Australia that you can get moved between. So you might need to move around
a little bit more with the Navy than you do with
the Army, but they’re all in great places. I mean, you’ve got Perth and
Sydney, the two big ones. The Cerberus, just near
Melbourne, and then you’ve got Darwin and Cairns. So it’s not really anywhere that
you wouldn’t want to go. They’re all really
great places. As far as the people that you
work with go, all the services have great people to work for
and my boss is really good at the moment. I don’t know how you’re
finding up in Darwin. I think it’s pretty
good as well. I think there’s obviously more
to it between the services than just the car
and the uniform. There are cultural differences
that are very real, and that’s going to happen. And it’s all governed by the
environment that you’re aiming to work in. Our job in the Army is to
support deployed ground forces, but that’s obviously
not all that we do. In terms of geography, it’s
often been said that Navy had first choice, Army had second,
and the Air Force, because I came last, picked
up the dregs. I think that’s true. Navy had the best locations,
but Army’s are pretty good as well. We are centralising our Army
Dental [? asset ?] in Brisbane next year– in fact, it’s
already starting. And the idea behind that is that
it’s to free people up so they can be deployed and
used operationally. And there’s a large number of
changes happening there that some of those things still
aren’t quite sorted out. But we will be centred
in Brisbane. And people will be doing
really quick around the country, supporting our various
locations there. That isn’t all the possible
opportunities we’ll have though, and there will be other
opportunities that will occur around the country
as well. Strictly speaking, dentistry
is supposed to be managed tri-service, and you do
occasionally see– It is very much a tri-service
thing. Yeah, you do occasionally
see non-service people or non-Army people– [INTERPOSING VOICES] A good example is I’ve just
spent two months up in Darwin doing some relief manning up
there, and I was working out of the RAAF base. So I was seeing mainly Army and
RAAF guys, occasionally an Army dude will come in as
well and we see him. But as a Navy dentist, I don’t
just see Navy people. Probably the other think I
should add in that’s really exciting for Navy coming up in
terms of deployments is the new LHD ships that
are coming in. They’re going to have
permanent dental surgeries on board. So in the future there will be
people permanently posted to those ships that will have
excellent facilities. From the plans I’ve seen, it
seems like they just going to be like any other
surgery on land. So that’s going to be really
good training in the next 10 years or so. Yeah, there are lots of
opportunities like that and it’s exciting times
all around. Helen asks, can you specialise,
for example, be an orthodontist? OK, in answering that question,
to answer the first part is probably you
can specialise– as an orthodontist,
probably not. The specialisations that you’re
more likely to be accepted for are things like
periodontics, prosthodontics, and endodontics, so that’s
the four of those. Orthodontics really, I’m not
aware of anyone’s who’s ever don that, and I don’t think
it’s ever been supported. No. for those sorts of specialties
that the defence force doesn’t use as often, because it’s quite
difficult to get someone approved for orthodontics. There has to be a real
functional need. And a fair portion of
orthodontics is basically aesthetic when you
get down to it. So there are specialists,
people do definitely get orthodontics, but because it
doesn’t happen that often. I think at Stirling, we might
have five cases on the go. So it’s not worth them training
up someone just to do such a small caseload. So we just refer out to a
contractor, a civilian practitioner, for that. But in terms of specialisation,
currently in Army we’ve got a guy who’s
finishing his perio specialty over in Adelaide. He finishes this year and
he’s going to be up in Brisbane next year. And we’ve currently got a guy
here in Melbourne who’s doing his pros specialty and he’ll
finish next year. So the opportunities
are there. But again, it’s not something
that everybody is likely to be able to do. And there’s a limited number
of positions available. And you’ve first of all got to
be accepted by the university to do the course. And then you can seek
sponsorship to actually do it. But having said that, I think
that the opportunities are likely to increase in future. Because it’s a lot cheaper for
the military to have a specialty in-house than to keep
farming people out all the time, but we’ll
see how that goes. But certainly, like I said, we
have a couple of guys who are about to finish now. You’ve had a couple guys
do endo in the last few years as well? Yes, we do have a few endo. So the opportunities
are there. But I wouldn’t like to mislead
you and give you the impression that’s it something
that everybody gets to do, because that clearly
isn’t the case. But there are certain people
who get to do that. But something that you need to
understand is they’re going to offer it to somebody who’s been
around for a while, is committed to the system, and
shows signs of being so, and is a good practitioner
and a good officer. And don’t forget, as well, but
if you do a specialty, then do incur a a return of service
obligation, which I’m sure the recruiting guys will
talk to you about. Anytime we support someone for
training, that incurs a return of service obligation,
so you need to be aware of that as well. Todd B. asks, have you had any
operational deployment experience? From the beginning of this year,
I actually posted into the flight dental
[? billet. ?] So I have gone on one overseas
deployment so far. I went away with a ship for two
months and we went up all around Southeast Asia. So that was a really
great experience. I had heaps of fun. Working at sea is very different
to working ashore. You’re got a bit more
limited resources oversea there by yourself. So it’s really good at
getting to learn to run your own anything. It’s just you and your DA
working through patients. You kind of work weird hours
sometimes, because you’ve got to work around what
the ship’s doing. So sometimes I’d have
half the day off. And then you’d end up working
until 8 o’clock at night after dinner just trying to
do things around what the ship’s doing. You get to join in in damage
control exercises. We also had a sports day on
some island in Malaysia because we were there on an
international exercise. So there were other Navies
there, and it was good international relations-type
thing. So that was my first one, I’m
hoping to get to do lots more. The times I’ve deployed an
exercise in dental work in the field, we do full-on dentistry
in the field, in the tent. It’s different than working on
a ship, because it’s in a canvas environment. But the equipment we’ve got that
we take in the field with us, we can do anything dentally
that you would do in a fixed facility. And it’s really good equipment
and works really, really well. And I’ve found that you have to
think a bit more flexibly about the way you do things. But it’s really good, and really
interesting, and we had a really good time. I had an experience in 2009. I went on a land exercise
called Talisman Sabre. We had an American Navy dental
team deployed here as well which had a dental officer and
two dental assistants. And that was really interesting,
to get an idea of how the American system works
differently to ours, and there are differences. And also, the dentists and I
talked about differences in the way we approach various
sorts of treatments, so that was worthwhile [INAUDIBLE] as well. But the bottom line is that
the opportunities to do different things are there. And going and working out in
a tent, in the bush, in the middle of, for example, the
Townsville Field Training Area, where there’s just
nothing in sight is not something that most dentists do
in their career, and it’s a very worthwhile experience. Matthew is asking, if a patient
requires a removal dental prosthesis, is there lab
support provided, or are you required to construct
a device yourself? Got to do the wax up all
by yourself, Matthew. All the lab work. No, I’m just joking. I haven’t done a wax up
since I graduated. No, we do have dental
technicians. So, Army, are you still
getting [INAUDIBLE]. No, we don’t. We’re now using contractors
or public servants. So basically, we [INAUDIBLE]. We just take impressions and do
the treatment plan and sent it out to a lab, just like any
other dentist in private practise would do. When you’re at sea, we don’t
have a technician with us. So any prosthedontic work or
denture work has to wait until you get back to shore. So basically you just temporise,
stabilise the patient, do everything else
that they need doing. And just let them know that you
can’t have your crown, or you can’t have your
denture until we get back to Australia. The short answer is that the
[INAUDIBLE] doesn’t really pay us to do that kind of thing. Occasionally you have to do your
own pour-up and all that sort of stuff that happens. But there are specialist people
out there who do very high quality prosthetic work
that we can only dream of being able to do as dentists,
and it’s just not required of us to do that. Having said that, when I was
out in Pukatja last year, I had a technician
with me there. He was an Army technician. And we worked together
a lot on some of the work that we did. And that taught me a lot about
how constructing dentures, how it works, and how to do them
well, which I’m certainly not an expert at. We’re lucky that at Stirling,
we actually have an on-site lab, so we have a technician
that works. He’s just down the hall, so
that’s really useful. You can say Mick, come in. He would do a [INAUDIBLE]. When it’s a bit quieter, like at
the moment, we’re quite on top of things. We don’t really have very
long waiting lists. So if I’ve got an hour or so
free, I’ll usually just go down and chat to Mick and
go through some cases. I’ve got to do this denture,
have you got any ideas for designs? He’s always willing to talk
to you, so you hang out with the lab techs. Yeah. They’re always good guys, too. Blake asks, upon leaving the
defence force, what sorts of qualifications and limitations
will you have when coming into the civilian world? Well, as far as qualifications
go, I wouldn’t say there are any limitations. Because you’re not going to a
specialist defence university that has a different degree. I mean, I did my
degree at UWA. You got yours from Sydney? Sydney, yeah. So you still have the
same degree that everybody else does. The only limitation that I
could see is that we have quite a restrictive population
that we’re working with. So if you wanted to get out
and do a lot of work with children, you wouldn’t have
any experience with that. But I wouldn’t really see any
limitations, particularly. We are all, as dentists,
registered with the Health Practitioner Registration
Agency, same as everyone else has to be. You are required to
be registered. So in terms of qualifications,
you have the same levels and qualifications of every other
dentist in the country. If anything, I’d think that
you might have a bit more. Because we get quite a lot of
sponsored post-graduate. Yeah, that’s true. Not post-graduate in terms of
master’s but just in terms of CPD courses and those
sorts of things. Sarah made a good point. The population that we work
with, certainly in Army’s case, are predominantly
male, like about 85%. They’re all young. They’re all between the
ages of 17 and 55. There are some over that,
but not very many. And they’re all relatively
healthy. So you don’t have the old, you
don’t have the very young, and you don’t have the medically
compromised. Yeah. So in terms of purely military
experience, those are the limitations. Now, most of us get around
that by going doing work outside in our spare time. I know that I’ve done some work
in hospitals, which I found was very interesting
and very challenging. Because there in that sort of
environment, you’re dealing with a teenager one moment,
and you have a 90-year-old person who’s got a [INAUDIBLE] coming in the next. So you do learn different
things. And even to the extent of
people with bleeding disorders, which you
wouldn’t see. Yeah, that’s another
good point. I am a bit rusty on
my [INAUDIBLE] path, medically compromised
knowledge. So if you feel that you’re
getting a bit down on it, you can go and do courses to
earn [? credit. ?] In a way we encourage
people to get that experience outside. Because when you deploy, if
you’re doing humanitarian assistance work, you’re going
to face those issues. You’ll see old people. You’ll see young people. You’ll see people who have
medical compromise. And if they don’t speak English,
it may be a problem actually finding out what
that issue actually is. So most of us get around that
by looking for work outside. So I don’t think that any
of us feel a lack of qualification or limitations
when we’re within the civilian world at all. Vivian asks, what are the best
moments of your careers in the Defence Force? I’m going to let you take
this one first. Yeah, I think same as the
career highlights, it’s definitely for me been
going to sea. And also, just being able to
meet other people and the networking that you do
within the Navy. Not even so much the dental
components, but it’s just an experience that you can’t
really get elsewhere. For example, we were out doing
PT in the afternoon. You’re sort of in
the tropics and there’s a beautiful sunset. And you’re just running around
on the flight deck, and then there are these fighter
jets flying overhead. And you’ll say well,
that’s really cool. You don’t really get to
do that anywhere else. So yeah, I think definitely
going away and doing those sorts of things that you just
don’t get to do in civilian practise would be some
of my best moments in the Defense Force. Yeah, I think in summary that
the thing that makes a difference in the military is
the sort of people you get to work with and the sort of
things that you do. And they’re things that people
in civilian life really don’t experience. You work with very highly
trained people who are very committed and very motivated,
which is fantastic. For me personally, I think the
best moments are similar. Being on deployment last year
up at High Range Training Area, which is west
of Townsville. And again, similar thing,
we got dive bombed by a [INAUDIBLE] Super Hornets. That was something that not
many people get to face. That was pretty interesting. But in terms of clinical
experience and doing the actual job, I did an exercise
last year called the Army Aboriginal Community
Day Programme. We went to a place called
Pukatja, which is in the middle of South Australia. It’s 200 kilometres west of the
Stuart Highway which leads from Adelaide to
Alice Springs. We were out there for three
months, and I got to work face-to-face, hands-on with the Aboriginal community there. And that was some of
the best clinical experience I’ve ever had. Did about 180 extractions
in that time, which was fantastic, inserted 50
sets of dentures. The sort of thing you just don’t
normally get to do in normal practise, and it was
really quite something. You do you see things there that
you don’t see back here in the normal day-to-day work. All sorts of interesting
pathology and people with quite advanced conditions– I’ve got some fantastic
slides. So those sort of things
are outstanding. But in terms of the day-to-day
life, I think the best moments are the time you get to
spend working with other military members. I’ve had the chance myself to
deploy with Australian people overseas, and it’s one
of the most rewarding things in life, I think. It’s a real community– It is. –that you join. They’re very committed
and very dedicated. And you see some quite
remarkable people at work and that’s fantastic.

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