Michael Lawler

Indigenous Health Scholarship

LaTrobe University, Victoria
Bachelor of Dentistry
Scholarship Awarded 2014 – 2018
Sponsored by:
Rotary Club of Bright

How will I contribute to improving Indigenous health as a qualified medical practitioner or health worker?

Health in the Indigenous communities of Australia in both rural and metropolitan areas is one of the major issues that face our people.   Growing up and witnessing firsthand many of the health problems that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffering from has been the major drive for me to be involved in Indigenous health.

My choice to pursue a career in dentistry has stemmed from my career as a qualified dental assistant employed at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne.   Working in the public sector has allowed me to interact with a vast array of people, including surgeons, dentists, therapists and patients.   During my time at the hospital I have met and assisted in the treatment of many people and many families including Indigenous patients which ahs shown me the need fo r treatment that many people are not receiving.   Although I have seen a rise in the number of Indigenous patients being successfully treated in the hospital, I know there are a lot of families who are unable to travel into the city to receive the treatment which they are in need of.

Having been raised in the Northern Territory and the Torres Strait Islands, I know the presence of medical and dental resources and services in remote communities are very limited and as an Indigenous health professional I believe it is my responsibility to help those in need with the skills and qualifications I am looking to gain.

I am very proud of my culture and the person I am and my upbringing has allowed me to relate to many people of different backgrounds throughout my life as well as throughout my career especially in communicating and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander patients.

I believe that I can contribute to promotion and encouragement of healthy lifestyle int he Indigenous communities and already have a network of many people who are following my journey in becoming a dentist.

Current Progressive Report

I have been a dental student at Latrobe University for 4 years, and over the course of my time here so far I have grown and learned more than I ever thought possible.

I started university after working as a dental assistant knowing I wanted to be a dentist and although I was ecstatic to be accepted into La Trobe I never really knew what was ahead of me. Going through the course has taught me so much more than just dentistry, it has taught me to reflect and appreciate my journey and in turn to be able to understand more about where others have come from. I have learned how to practice ethical dentistry and how to management patients from differing backgrounds but most importantly I have learned how to think for myself, how to find answers and how to trust in my capabilities.

When I started at La Trobe, I thought I was going to spend the next 5 years buried in text books, memorising journal articles and struggling to keep up with assignments.  This perception I had probably stemmed from my previous attempts at tertiary education so I didn’t think it would be much different this time round. However, I quickly found there was so much more to it. The major aspect of this degree which changed my perception and enabled me to feel more certain and comfortable in what I had chosen as a career path has been the practical components. The hands on experience I have had so far, not only in being able to develop my skills as a clinician but more importantly learning from all my interactions with patients has been a major highlight for me. In June this year I recently completed my third rotation on placement based at Djerriwarrh Health Services in Melton. As with each placement I was fortunate to treat a wide range of patients from the Melton community with diverse backgrounds and with varied treatment needs over the 5 months I spent there. I especially enjoyed the aspect of treating patients for their emergency dental needs which enabled me to refine my skills in treatment planning and in patient management and look forward to continuing my development during my final placement in Mildura.

Learning from my placement supervisors and having first hand experience has been crucial to my development as a clinician and has showed me there are so many ways that one can learn that are both educational and enjoyable.

The dentistry course has also taught me how pivotal the role of the dentist can be for some people in relation to their health and having the privilege to meet, talk to and develop rapport with my patients has given me an insight to the responsibility I have not only as a dentist but as an oral health educator.

Though I have faced educational, financial and personal obstacles each year I endeavour to continue growing personally and professionally in order to meet my goal of graduating at the end of this year. If it wasn’t for the challenges I have been able to overcome with a lot of help from those who have supported me, I doubt my self-belief, confidence and ambition would be at the level it is. I am very proud to be able to reflect on my achievements during my time as a student and am so happy to be taking the final steps towards the end of this chapter and walk into the next.