Oral health workforce training in Fiji

THE training of oral health workforce began in 1945 at the Central Medical School in Tamavua. The programs offered at the school also changed over time to meet the needs of the region. It began with the four-year course for assistant dental practitioners which was later upgraded to diploma in dentistry.

Subsequently, a program for dental hygienist, dental technicians and junior dental assistants was developed. In 1973, the dental hygiene program was replaced by a three dental therapy program.

Most of the postgraduate studies for dentistry were offered in Australia and New Zealand where most of our earlier graduates attended. In 1993, the department of oral health at the Fiji School of Medicine introduced the multi-entry and multi-exit bachelor of dental surgery program as there was a critical shortage of dentists since most did not return after completing postgraduate qualifications abroad.

The program was unique as graduates with dental hygiene qualifications could enroll in the dental therapy program and those from the dental therapy program could enroll in the bachelor of dental surgery program.

Most of these lateral entry students needed to meet some specified entry requirements to be able to register in the study program of interest. In 2003, a new three-year bachelor of oral health program replaced the diploma in dental therapy program producing graduates to practice as dental therapist and dental hygienists.

This program provides students with in-depth knowledge and competencies relating to the prevention and management of oral diseases as well as health promotion.

Currently, the School of Dentistry and Oral Health at the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Fiji National University has evolved dental education to a higher level with improved program structure, revised program outcomes and looking forward to the opening of a renovated dental teaching clinic with state of the art dental chairs, digital dental radiology as well as improved information technology to enhance students learning experience.

We now also offer postgraduate diplomas programs in Oral Surgery and Public Health Dentistry. In 2017, we launched our first masters degree program, the Master of Oral Surgery.

The program of study at the school does not only focus on clinical based competencies however it also encompasses general health and community dental health. Our students are also involved in community services where they apply the knowledge of identifying the community needs, developing proposals and also implementing their plans of intervention.

This is a very good learning experience as our students are also from various regional ethnic groups and this is the opportunity to be exposed to the community, their culture and the different approaches to promoting oral health in the assigned community.

It is anticipated that more postgraduate programs will be offered from the institution in the near future.