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Future Focus: Masoud Nasir

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.

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.

Getting ready to set off

FutureFocus recipient, Masoud ‘Mass’ Nasir, travelled to Fiji on his voluntary overseas placement. At the time, Mass was a final year dental student from James Cook University. He was located in Lautoka and its surrounding rural regions for the duration of his placement. Here, he worked with local health teams and provided oral health services to underprivileged communities who would otherwise not have access to dental treatment.

Mass also planned 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 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’”, said Mass, “so I wanted 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”.

Week one

We’d like to say ‘Bula!’ to our FutureFocus recipient, Masoud ‘Mass’ Nasir, who completed the first week of his voluntary dental placement in Fiji. “Week one was quite a culture shock and challenging in many regards”, said Mass. He spent the week at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva, observing post-graduate students perform oral surgeries. “Most of these students came from surrounding islands where there are little specialist skills to manage complex facial traumas,” explained 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 was a real eye opener for Mass. “You can see that Fiji is a developing nation - dentistry is far less regulated there and is completely problem based,” said Masoud. “Examinations were only $3, extractions are $5, jaw fixation $30 and gold crowns $50, which in Fijian currency is even cheaper than it is here in Australia”.

Culturally, Mass was overwhelmed by the friendly and welcoming nature of the Fijian people. “Everyone greeted you with a big wave and “Bula!” which Mass learnt has many meanings such as long-life, health and prosperity”. He also embraced their native attire, purchasing a Bula shirt, suloo skirt and Cebu sandals which he wore during his placement.

Mass then made his way to Lautoka, Fiji’s sugar cane growing region, where he spent 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 also purchased some toothbrushes, toothpaste and books to assist him with his oral health promotion program which he planned to implement for the schools in the region.

 

Week two

Leaving Suva, Mass took a bus and travelled for four hours across the island to Lautoka, where he spent 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 was very basic with limited resources. “The waiting rooms were always full with people who had travelled far and wide to get dental treatment”, he said.

Mass started to see patients over the week and commented how grateful and appreciative they were for his help. He had found communicating dental concepts quite challenging at times, however, due to differences in language and health literacy. One of the most common treatments Mass carried out were extractions because of the lack of resources and facilities available (i.e. no suction; no dental light; lack of restorative equipment). Radiographs weren’t an option either and if they were, they weren’t used for the majority of extractions as there were limited films accessible. As a result, Mass was doing most of the extractions without proper assessment of root morphology, which he said, could be very daunting at times. “As a dental student, it goes against a lot of the protocol of what we have been taught”, said 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”, explained 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 planned to go back and do more oral health promotion over his remaining two weeks in the area.

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”.

 

 

 

 

Week three and 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 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 these week, Mass experienced a few challenging extraction cases where he found the Fijian people to have very dense bones, 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 went to the local supermarkets of Lautoka, where he used the $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 saw, no matter how many teeth you extracted, you know the next day that waiting room would 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” translating to “till we see each other again”.

 

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!”

 

 

 

 

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 our FutureFocus Grant open in May and close in August. 

You can also access funds to help undertake an overseas placement, with our Student Banking Package.

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