Canadian student looks back on her time at James Cook University Dental School

9 February 2021

Student Highlight: Hema Chodha Looks Back on Her Time at James Cook University Dental School

There’s no doubt that 2020 was a challenging year for everyone. International students in their final years, preparing for graduation, were no exception. But sometimes with challenges there are also opportunities for spectacular experiences and growth.

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Inside the JCU dentistry clinic. Learn more about studying dentistry at James Cook University!

Hema Chodha, a recent James Cook University Bachelor of Dental Surgery graduate from Canada, recently shared her experience with this interesting final year of her degree.

How would you describe your time at James Cook University?
JCU Dentistry offers a world-class learning environment and focuses on the provision of oral health care in rural and remote communities. These factors, in combination with advanced teaching facilities, endless hands-on training, and breathtaking views of tropical FNQ undoubtedly sold my decision to pursue dentistry at JCU.

My time at JCU has been extraordinary. The lively dentistry community welcomes and nurtures students to achieve their full potential and thoroughly experience student life. These past five years have been filled with endless memories, lifelong friendships and experiences that I will cherish for a lifetime.

Some of the most significant achievements during my time in uni have been my close involvement with the JCU Dental Student Association, where I served as the Community and Charity Aid Officer (2017) and Vice President (2018). I was also involved as a student mentor/mentor leader for first-year dental students and was fortunate enough to receive the 2019 Alan Calder Student Mentor of the Year award, as nominated by my peers and student mentor coordinators.

Some highlights of my time at JCU would definitely be the close-knit friendships I have established and the memories I have made along the way. Starting university as a fresh high school graduate, I was fortunate to experience uni life as well as a sense of growth and independence which came from living alone, away from my family halfway across the world. Other highlights would definitely include treating patients for the first time (definitely an upgrade from the sim clinic mannequins) as well as both of my clinical placements, where I was able to explore more of what Australia had to offer. I mean, not everyone gets to say that they are studying in tropical paradise!

What were your clinical experiences like?
My first clinical placement was in Mount Isa, Queensland, at Mount Isa Base Hospital (MIBH). For someone from Vancouver B.C, traveling to the outback Australia was definitely an experience to say the least. It was most certainly a warm welcome, as I braced the 40-degree dry-heat and delved into what the outback had to offer. The JCU Centre for Rural and Remote Health facilitates a variety of clinical placements, not just for dental students, but also for many other disciplines including nursing, midwifery, medicine, occupational therapy, pharmacy, and more. Within our accommodation, students from different faculties were placed together allowing for inter-faculty bonding, which helped nurture new friendships. From attending group park run sessions, to group trivia nights and walking along Lake Moondarra, together we explored what Mount Isa had to offer, which made the experience that much more special.

My second clinical placement was close to home, at Cairns North Dental Clinic. After spending four years in Cairns, it is definitely a place close to my heart, so it was quite nostalgic to come back for placement. At Cairns North, I experienced a wide variety of general dentistry, particularly dental extractions, that enabled me to safely expand my scope of practice as a general dentist. I was also fortunate to be able to participate in an oral and maxillofacial surgery specialist clinic every fortnight. There I observed various cases ranging from oral pathology to orofacial trauma as well as planning required for orthognathic surgeries, where interdisciplinary care is crucial. As well, I was able to able to travel to Yarrabah and shadow the orthodontic clinic.

How did COVID-19 alter your pre- and post-graduation plans?
One common setback that I think everyone would have felt in 2020 were the impacts of COVID-19. Despite placements being cut short due to the pandemic, I was able to experience a strong variety of public dentistry while working with Queensland Health including cases of dental trauma and acute odontogenic infections ranging from children to adults. I was also able to participate in general anaesthesia (GA) sessions in which extensive dental treatment was completed for many children from rural and remote communities.

It is without a doubt that COVID-19 impacted many people in means which were unfathomable. Like other students, I went back home to my family during the peak of uncertainty and was unsure if I would be able to return to complete my studies. Nevertheless, we persevered and while some students unfortunately were not able to make it back in time, we showed our strength during these tough times. The coming together of the JCU dentistry community as well as support, and services offered by the college to assist students, both domestic and international, were all driving factors that helped me complete my final year in JCU dentistry. Despite an unprecedented time, 2020 was a unique year in which I was fortunate to continue to serve as a student-clinician, learn, grow and gain valuable experiences; 2020 was definitely the year of resilience. Unfortunately, life does not always go to plan but it is how we handle ourselves during challenging moments that define us as people, not our hardships.

During my time at JCU and through my clinical placements, I was fortunate to have been surrounded by amazing staff, supervisors and mentors that have helped shape me into the dentist I am today. With that, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to everyone that I have worked with during my time in dental school; the experiences gained have not only enhanced my clinical skills, but have also enabled me to learn, grow, as well as strive to reach my full potential as a dentist.

As a graduated dentist I look to do my part in serving members of the local community as well as those residing on the outskirts of the city, who may not otherwise have readily available access to dental care. I would like to reinforce the fundamental values of oral health education in addition to the provision of quality clinical service and delivery of optimal oral health care.

In the future, I would like to continue to gain experience by attending regular workshops and continuing professional development events as well as staying up to date with current guidelines. I would also like to pursue a specialization in paediatric dentistry.

Original story published by James Cook University.


Would you like more information about studying at JCU Dental School? Please contact OzTREKK’s Australian Dental Schools Admissions Officer at

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