Dentistry can be an all-consuming profession, but that doesn’t stop many of our dentists taking the time to volunteer for various causes in the West Australian community.
Dr Amanda Phoon Nguyen is a regular volunteer for various dental causes, but she also gives her time as a mascot for the Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation.
“I had been volunteering with the Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation for several years, and I initially got involved with this charity when I was an Oral Medicine registrar,” she recalls. “It was a cause close to my heart and I knew their work was something I wanted to support. The Foundation is the official and largest funder of PCH and the wider child and adolescent health service after the government.”
Amanda says initially she started volunteering at the play areas and at fundraising drives, but then there was a call-out for volunteers to be the mascot. “There are specific height and weight requirements for the role due to the costume size, and I fell in that category. I figured it was a sign, and never looked back!”
Dressed in the mascot costume, Amanda has attended a primary school, Christmas fundraiser and a City of Perth event, as well as hospital rounds (although the amount the mascot is used has been reduced due to COVID, which she hopes will change soon). In addition to volunteering as a mascot, she also volunteers several times a year in different roles within the Foundation, including gift-wrapping at Christmas and tin-shaking.
For Amanda, the volunteer work has been very rewarding. “I love seeing people smile,” she says. “I can be really silly and ham it up; it’s really rewarding to see the joy on people’s faces, both adults and children. Sometimes when I am in costume, I go up to my colleagues at PCH, and of course, they have no idea that it’s really me in there! Stitches doesn’t talk. That’s a bit of fun as well.”
Amanda also says volunteering in a capacity so different to her day-to-day work is great because she likes variety, and doing this brings her joy. “Through volunteerism, I’ve also made many friends,” she adds. “Many of the other volunteers are wonderful people whom I would have never met otherwise.”
Away from the practice, you’ll find Dr Kathryn Braysich at the beach, volunteering as a life saver and patrol captain with Geraldton Surf Life Saving Club.
Kathryn first became involved in her local surf club in 2012, when she decided to do a surf lifesaving Bronze Medallion course. Now, during the summer, she patrols one morning every second weekend.
“The most rewarding part is giving back to the Geraldton community,” Kathryn says. “Often I see my patients down the beach.”
Kathryn says she has a great patrol team, and it’s a good social atmosphere with people from all walks of life. “I love the beach, so when I volunteer, I get to hang out there, which is so different to my day-to-day work,” she adds.
To others considering volunteering, Kathryn says she highly recommends it. “You get as much personal satisfaction as you give to the community and your fellow patrol members,” she says.
Dr Anish Shah was motivated to sign up for his local bushfire brigade because he lives on acreage in the southwest, surrounded by bushfire-prone native eucalypt forest. “Part of being a responsible landowner is maintaining your property to be defensible in the event of a fire, as well as having the skills to fight fires should they come knocking on your door,” Anish says. “Signing up for the local bush fire brigade was the easiest way to acquire these skills as well and familiarise yourself with the relevant equipment and the terrain you are responsible for.”
Anish says there are many rewarding parts of doing this kind of volunteer work. “You are generally assigned to the brigade closest to your farm, which means you get to hang out and work with your neighbours, who generally become your friends,” he says. “You get to play with some cool firefighting equipment, and you get to be outdoors and see parts of the Australian bush very few people get to see.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he says your small effort can make a huge difference in the potential outcome of a fire.
When asked how he juggles this type of volunteer work around dentistry, he says thankfully, large fires that require all-hands-on-deck are a rarity. “Working in a regional practice means most of the people you are around understand that if you have to go, you have to go,” he adds. “Patients understand that too, so it is very straightforward.”
For others thinking of volunteering, Anish says take the plunge – you won’t look back. “I feel like a fraud because I get more out of being a volunteer than what I give (my time),” he says. “You will learn skills that are translatable to a lot of other things in your life, even your dental career.
“There is never a shortage of volunteers, but there is always a shortage of active volunteers. If you do sign up to be a volunteer, don’t do it to fluff up your profile on your practice website. Do it because you want to.”
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