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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin Alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre Yarning Places

First Noongar dentist graduates

Date posted: 12 January 2012

Chantel Thorn has recently graduated from The University of Western Australia (UWA) as the first Noongar dentist and the State's second Aboriginal dentist.

Dr Thorn will start work at the Alice Springs Oral Health Clinic in February.

The former Hamilton Hill Senior High School student said her interest in dentistry was sparked when she was in Year 11 and attended a Health Carers' Camp at UWA.

'I remember the moment at the camp when I told myself "I could be a dentist",' she said. 'At that time there weren't any Indigenous dentists and I thought it would be great to do it. It's a stable and admired profession and offers the chance for me to be a role model for others.

'At school I was interested in art and my work was shown in the Year 12 Perspectives exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. When someone at the camp said dentistry involved creativity and good hand-eye coordination, I thought it would be something I'd really like to do. It is very creative, especially when you have to make detailed, precise drawings and aesthetically pleasing reproductions and moulds.'

Chantel said the years of studying dentistry had been challenging but that at no time had she thought of giving up, no matter how great the distractions which included family loss.

'I don't like to fail,' she said. 'I also had a lot of support from my parents, Gail and Leonard Thorn, and my older sister Latricia. The School of Indigenous Studies at UWA was also very encouraging. During my years of studying, I lived at St Catherine's College on campus. They were very supportive too. And I made a lot of friends among the cohort of dentistry students.'

While studying, Dr Thorn was a St Catherine's tutor. She played sport for the college, was a member of the Senior Common Room Committee and was a tutor in the Aboriginal Pre-Medicine Course. She also supervised the Health Carers' Camp that got her started.

'It's an honour to give back,' she said. 'It's good to see a young person decide that they'll try this scary new thing, even if it means leaving their family and friends who might be from remote parts of the State.

'In Alice Springs, I'll be able to visit some of the small Aboriginal communities, as well as schools. Along with being a dentist, my role will be health promotion and there might be the opportunity to work in the hospital too.'


Last updated: 12 January 2012
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