Rachel Williams knew she'd found her calling after school work experience in Glen Innes. Now, she is an Oral Health Therapist for Armajun specialising in children - and couldn't picture her life doing anything else.
Based in Inverell, she often travels great distances across the region to ensure other communities get the best dental care possible, keeping kids' mouths in good nick.
She not only works at clinics in Armidale, Tenterfield and Glen Innes, but takes part in school screenings as far up the border as Jennings, Wallangara, Walcha to Kingstown.
While children and are often thought to have something of a fraught relationship, she said that just made the "rewards so much greater".
"Some kids I saw when I first started are still coming - they are so excited to come now because they know me. They see you down town too and say, 'Oh that's the dentist!'," she laughed.
As an Indigenous woman, she would love to see the representation of Indigenous people in dentistry improve - Indigenous people make up only 0.4 percent of workers in the industry in Australia.
"You understand each other culturally. It's a hard one, but it makes you feel more comfortable, goes back to history where it was a white person dictating and taking over, and this is someone you can look at and think, 'I'm the same'," she explained
"You understand the culture, the family dynamic, which is different in every culture - no different to Italian or Greek - it's just another way of doing things."
The statistics have also illustrated current inequalities in Indigenous oral health outcomes, something that Rachel is proud to be making a difference in.
"I am glad our service is very much out in the community as well, and we've seen a huge difference," she said.
There is also a larger play at work: a new partnership between the Indigenous Dentists Australia Association and ADA NSW is set to investigate opportunities to improve those oral health outcomes over the coming years.
It hopes to encourage more Indigenous people to follow in the footsteps of this trailblazing Inverell-based Indigenous dental health practitioner - and help spur improvement in oral health outcomes for Indigenous patients.
"There are so many pathways to get into the field," Rachel explained.
She graduated in 2018, after having received two scholarships from the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, and has now been working at Armajun for three years.
"I was one of first dental assistants when our dental clinic opened in 2014," she explained.
"I started as a trainee, then did Cert 3 and 4 in dental assisting, then got another scholarship with [Poche] to do a bachelor of oral health at the University of Sydney."
With a position for a trainee dental assistant open now, Rachel said it was "such a great pathway" and told everyone to "come in and learn on the job".
"I know when I first started dental and thinking about going to uni - people said to me 'oh you must be so smart'.
"But it's just about that belief in yourself - you can actually do it."
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