Masoud ‘Mass’ Nasir was one of the five recipients of our FutureFocus grant for 2017 and a final year dental student from James Cook University at the time. Mass received $2 500 to put towards his voluntary overseas placement, which he undertook in Latouka, Fiji late last year. His placement involved working with local health teams to provide oral health services to underprivileged communities as well as implementing an oral health promotion program for schools in the region.
Read a full account of Mass’ incredible journey below!
Week three & four
Mass started off the last week of his placement by joining the locals in the celebrations of Diwali (‘The Festival of Lights’). After the Festival, it was back to the normal treatment of patients at Lautoka Hospital. Mass has quickly realised that simple procedures are far more difficult in Fiji with the lack of basic equipment like headlamps. “I’ve realised that as a clinician we take so much for granted when it comes to what is available to us in Australia. For example, something as simple as a head lamp makes a world of difference. I’ve certainly learnt to be more grateful of being a dental practitioner in Australia.”
During this week, Mass experienced a few challenging extraction cases where he found the Fijian people to have very dense bone, similar to what he was exposed to on his first clinical rotation in Alice Springs with the indigenous population.
Mass also went back to visit the primary school he had visited the week before. On his return visit, he realised there were over 130 children in kindergarten alone – meaning they didn’t have enough toothbrushes for every child. Mass took the local supermarkets of Lautoka, where he used $500 from his BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grant to purchase as many soft-bristled toothbrushes he could find – and getting some very funny looks in the process!
Reflecting on his final week, Mass commented that the most rewarding thing he did during his time in Fiji was promoting the importance of oral health and hygiene to the children of Lautoka, specifically to those aged around 6 years old. He both saw and experienced first-hand the impact of upstream and midstream intervention and the immense difference that education can make when children are taught from a young age. “It was extremely rewarding”, said Mass, “and in retrospect I wish I could have done more!”
Mass explained to us that before he went to Fiji, he was excited at the prospect of extracting teeth. However, during his time there, this became very repetitive and disheartening. Mass commented “no matter how many patients you see, no matter how many teeth you extract, you know the next day that waiting room will be overcrowded with patients mostly needing teeth extracted.” This gave him perspective as a clinician and he has since developed a passion for education. Moving forward, he wants to pursue a primary prevention approach - one that educates patients to take responsibility of their own oral health. “We need to prevent the problem before it even starts,” said Mass, “After all, a good dentist should work themselves out of the job.”
After his fourth week of placement, Mass did not say “goodbye” to his colleagues and friends at Lautoka Hospital but “sototalleh” which translates as “till we see each other again”. Before travelling back to Australia, Mass was able to enjoy some travelling and down-time on the beautiful islands of Fiji.
Mass reflected on the amazing experience and opportunity he had in Fiji – one which he says really opened his eyes. “It’s made me realise that I have a responsibility as both a clinician and a person who lives in such a fortunate and amazing country to give back to those in less fortunate circumstances”, said Mass, “Overall, it was an amazing way to finish off five years of study and what a journey it has been!”
Leaving Suva, Mass hopped on a bus and headed four hours across the island to Lautoka, where he will spend the remaining three weeks of his placement. Mass quickly discovered that despite being the second largest city of Fiji (with a population of around 52 000), the Oral Health Department at Lautoka Hospital is very basic with limited resources. “The waiting rooms are always full with people who have travelled far and wide to get dental treatment”, he says.
Mass has started to see patients over the past week and commented how grateful and appreciative they are for his help. He has found communicating dental concepts quite challenging at times, however, due to differences in language and health literacy. One of the most common treatments Mass is carrying out are extractions because of the lack of resources and facilities available (i.e. no suction; no dental light; lack of restorative equipment). Radiographs aren’t an option either and if they are, they aren’t used for the majority of extractions as there are limited films accessible. As a result, Mass is doing most extractions without proper assessment of root morphology, which he says, can be very daunting at times. “As a dental student, it goes against a lot of the protocol of what we have been taught”, says Mass, “but the environment you are in, requires you to adapt and be resourceful.”
During the week, he also visited kindergarten children at a local primary school to deliver oral health promotion. On asking the class how many of them owned a toothbrush, only about thirty percent of the class raised their hand. “That was quite confronting”, recalls Mass. He spent his time educating them about tooth brushing and healthy foods. “Oral health for the majority of the population is not a part of their primary health”, explains Mass. “This is why I am very happy providing education to children so that we can hopefully change this detrimental pattern in the future.” Finally, Mass handed out toothbrushes to the class, much to their excitement. He is planning to go back and do more oral health promotion over the next two weeks.
Mass also enjoyed exploring the area over the weekend, where he hiked up Mt. Batilamu, Fiji’s third highest peak. “We were escorted up by our guide, Sala, who lived at the base in Abaca village,” recalls Mass. “We were equipped with proper shoes and plenty of water – Sala did the whole climb in flip flops and with a machete! She certainly put me to shame”.
Mass is looking forward to the upcoming week which is Diwali (‘Festival of Lights’). While he will enjoy celebrating over a public holiday, he has been told the dental clinic will be extremely busy afterwards so is readying himself for that. We look forward to hearing all about it in Mass’ next update!
We’d like to say ‘Bula!’ to our FutureFocus recipient, Masoud ‘Mass’ Nasir, who has now completed the first week of his voluntary dental placement in Fiji. “This week has been quite a culture shock and challenging in many regards”, says Mass. He has spent the week at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva, observing post-graduate students perform oral surgeries. “Most of these students come from surrounding islands where there are little specialist skills to manage complex facial traumas,” explains Mass. “Once their training is finished, they will go back home and utilise their skills by providing similar services for the local communities.” One of the highlights for Mass was witnessing the oral medicine management of Trigeminal Neuralgia and other conditions which he had only ever seen in a textbook.
Dentistry in Fiji is vastly different from Australia, which has been a real eye opener for Mass. “You can see that Fiji is a developing nation - dentistry is far less regulated here and is completely problem based,” says Masoud. “Examinations are only $3, extractions are $5, jaw fixation $30 and gold crowns $50, which in Fijian currency is even cheaper than it is here”.
Culturally, Mass has been overwhelmed by the friendly and welcoming nature of the Fijian people. “Everyone greets you with a big wave and “Bula!” which I have learnt has many meanings such as long-life, health and prosperity”. He has also embraced their native attire, purchasing a Bula shirt, suloo skirt and Cebu sandal to wear during his placement.
Mass is now on his way to Lautoka, Fiji’s sugar cane growing region, where he will spend the next three weeks working with local health teams and providing oral health services to those that would otherwise not have access to dental treatment. He has also purchased some toothbrushes, toothpaste and books to assist him with his oral health promotion program which he plans to implement for the schools in the region.
We look forwarding to hearing more updates from Mass and about the impact he is having on these communities over the coming weeks!
Getting ready to set off
The first of our FutureFocus recipients, Masoud ‘Mass’ Nasir, is heading off to Fiji tomorrow on his voluntary overseas placement. Mass is a final year dental student from James Cook University and will be located in Lautoka and its surrounding rural regions for the duration of his placement. Here, he will be working with local health teams and providing oral health services to underprivileged communities who would otherwise not have access to dental treatment.
Mass also plans to implement an oral health promotion program for the schools in the region, creating reusable educational resources for the Fijian students to use long after his placement has finished. “I have always been a big believer in the adage ‘catch a fish for a man and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed him for life’”, says Mass, “so I want to spend the FutureFocus grant in a way that reflects this - by teaching the local children the importance of oral health and healthy foods. In Fiji, there is an extremely high decay rate amongst children and this is due in large part to a lack of knowledge about good oral health. Even if I positively affect one of these children, then I will feel that my job has been successful”.
We wish Mass all the best for his placement and look forward to following his journey over the next month.
Planning an overseas elective?
Developed exclusively for medical and dental students, each year the BOQ Specialist FutureFocus grants enable five students the opportunity to undertake an overseas placement so that their commitment to helping others can be realised. Applications for FutureFocus 2018 grants are now open!
You can also access funds to help undertake an overseas placement, with our Student Banking Package.
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The information contained in this article (Information) is general in nature and has been provided in good faith, without taking into account your personal circumstances. While all reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information is accurate and opinions fair and reasonable, no warranties in this regard are provided.