Do rural universities produce rural dentists? An exploratory study examining Australian dental graduates of 2015.

Ms Lisa Lim1, Mr Shaiel Parikh1, Ms Nadia See1, Mr Kaejenn Tchia1, Dr Felicity Croker1, Dr Torres Woolley1

1College of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia


Rural and remote areas experience ongoing challenges with recruiting and retaining dentists, which results in workforce shortages where the need for oral health services is greatest.  The dental workforce maldistribution is evident nation-wide, with a proportion of 56.2 dentists per 100 000 in metropolitan areas compared to 22.9 dentists per 100 000 in remote areas. Underlying this maldistribution of dentists is the difficulty facing rural communities when attracting and retaining dental graduates.

The aim of this presentation is to share the results of a study that explored the intentions and destinations of dental graduates from six Australian universities who completed their degrees in 2015.

Data was collected via an online survey. GIS mapping methods were used to show the practice locations of participants according to the Modified Monash Model (MMM). GIS mapping revealed that more rural university graduates practiced in MMM zones 3-7 while metropolitan graduates remained in cities.

While previous studies have provided insights into the motivational factors that persuade and dissuade dentists from practising in rural and remote locations, our study reveals that the university that graduates’ attended also effects their choice of practice location. Regional universities, such as James Cook and Charles Sturt, were more likely to have graduates who transitioned into the outer regional, rural and remote workforce. Factors that influenced and enabled dental graduate’s decisions will be discussed.  As dentists play an important role in the multi-disciplinary healthcare teams servicing rural and remote Australia, the outcomes of this study provide insights into why dental graduates ‘go where they go’.

This study enriches the understanding of dental graduate movements upon entry to the workforce.  Findings contribute to discussion about the current trends of graduate movement and provide insights into how the dental curriculum and location of a university program can successfully increase motivation to work rurally.


Mr. Kaejenn Tchia and Ms. Lisa Lim are final year dentistry students from James Cook University. As part of their studies, Kaejenn and Lisa have successfully completed units in health and health care in Australia, health professional research, health promotion, lifespan development, statistics, as well as rural and remote primary and public health care. Both Kaejenn and Lisa have also been involved with the James Cook University Dental Student Association Inc. as President and Sponsorship Coordinator respectively in 2016/17. Kaejenn and Lisa have strong interests in rural health and hopes to work in a rural setting in the future.