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Dentistry Graduates Join Exodus

MEDIA RELEASE 20 AUGUST 2001

Dentistry Graduates Join Exodus

Increased numbers of University of Otago dentistry students are choosing to leave NZ following graduation.

Recent statistics from the Dental Council of New Zealand's 2000 Workforce Analysis report show the number of new dental graduates leaving NZ is continuing to grow. The report also shows that not only are dentists leaving the country, they are taking longer to return.

Executive Director of the NZ Dental Association, Dr Robin Whyman says that there is a corresponding decrease in the number of dental graduates continuing to study towards specialist qualifications, down from 52 in 1998 to 36 in 2000.

"Perhaps the most compelling argument for heading overseas is the attraction of higher earnings offered by overseas countries," said Dr Whyman.

“By the time they have graduated University in New Zealand, most dental students have significant student loans. More than 97 percent of dental graduates from 1998 had debts greater than $50,000 and many had debts in excess of $100,000 . The ability to repay these loans is far more achievable when working in overseas locations such as the UK, where recent graduates can expect to earn substantially greater salaries,“ Dr Whyman says.

The report also highlights rural areas of New Zealand as being hardest hit by the wave of new graduates heading overseas. Those who don't go overseas are more likely to work in larger cities such as Auckland, where earning potential is greater than rural districts.

“This has led to a shortage of dentists in some of our rural districts such as Manawatu-Wanganui, where there is a ratio of 1 dentist for every 3000 people,“ says Dr Whyman.

The majority of the remainder of the country has a dentist to population ratio of between 1:1500 and 1:2000. Similar problems also exist in Tairawhiti and the West Coast, where dentists are working 50 hours a week to keep up with the workload. Patient waiting lists in the West Coast are around 4 weeks.

While the number of dentists on the dental register has increased in the past few years, the need for dental care is also escalating as New Zealand’s population grows and people retain their original teeth for much longer.

A recent study in Australia suggests reasons dentists are reluctant to work outside major cities include the perception that dentistry outside the major cities is a lonely profession and that rural practitioners can lack professional and academic support, the thought of social upheaval (leaving family and friends), change in lifestyle and adjustment to living in a small rural community and lack of exposure to rural dentistry and rural life as dental students.

“Most of our dental students come from major cities, they reside in a city [Dunedin] for the five year duration of the course where they develop friends and professional contacts. Their friends and professional contacts are based in the main centres,“ says Dr Whyman.

“The answers to retaining enough dentists throughout New Zealand lie in addressing the costs of dental education, especially at postgraduate level, ensuring the criteria for entry to dental school makes studying dentistry an attractive option for students from throughout the country and developing the support available to health professionals in isolated and provincial centres."

Ends

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