When I was 15, my family moved from Mumbai to the Gold Coast for my dad’s business. At first, it was a massive culture shock. But I had always been a very social person, so I just decided to dive in and give everything my best shot. Many people said it would be difficult for me to fit in at school, but I didn’t have any problems, and actually ended up becoming House Vice Captain. After school, I accepted a scholarship to Sydney University to study Medical Science, and my family moved to Sydney to support me.
Although I enjoyed research, I really wanted a job where I would interact with people and be more hands-on. So after I finished at Sydney, I decided to go back to the Gold Coast to do Dentistry, because I felt it was time to live away from my family in order to grow as a person. While there, I became involved with the local Rotaract club, as well as with the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience program as a student mentor. At that time, some friends and I did a charity project with a local indigenous group delivering oral health information, and the outcomes were remarkable. I found I really loved community work, so when I finished my studies, rather than just developing a city practice, I decided to take a job in the public dental service in rural Victoria, in Shepparton.
That was an amazing experience, but I was shocked by the low level of dental health literacy I found there. As a result, an optometrist friend and I started Shepp-Health, a project to help primary school kids understand more about eye and dental health, in the hopes there would be a ripple effect through the community. We also started a free health service for people who weren’t getting the help they needed through the public system. In that time, I was named the 2017 Goulburn Valley Young Health Professional, as well as the 2017 Griffith University Young Health Alumnus of the year. Those awards really boosted my confidence that I was on the right track and achieving something worthwhile.
By this time, I was married and my wife was expecting, so we decided to move to Sydney. Although I started working in a private practice, I still wanted to continue to work in regional areas, so I started regularly driving the three hours to Dapto and back to do pro-bono community work.
In 2019, we started Project Smile, a free dental clinic in Dapto. Word spread and next we started doing tele-dentistry, where people in rural areas were making phone calls and sending us Facebook videos asking for advice!
At the same time, I realised people were travelling long distances from elsewhere in regional NSW to see me in Dapto. So I decided to take a shot at something different, and contacted the Royal Flying Doctor Service to see if they would partner with me to do community dentistry in those areas where people couldn’t access dental care. They said they’d never had a request like it before, but they agreed to try it!
So far, we’ve been to communities in places like Bourke and Lightning Ridge, visiting the Aboriginal Medical Service and Public Health Clinics there. The people we see have often been waiting a long time for help, and I love that I can use my profession where there is real need.
At university, I had a mentor, Dr Brent McParland, who said, ‘If you ever have doubts about what you’re doing, close your eyes and ask yourself: Am I doing the right thing? And if the answer is ‘yes’, you should go for it!’
I’ve never forgotten that.
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