The stars of St Pat’s – Dr Lisa Standing

When we call Dr Lisa Standing, she’s just finished a morning of volunteer work at St Patrick’s Community Centre in Fremantle. “Today was a busy morning,” she says. “To give you an idea, we saw nine patients in five hours and did about 25 extractions.”


When we call Dr Lisa Standing, she’s just finished a morning of volunteer work at St Patrick’s Community Centre in Fremantle. “Today was a busy morning,” she says. “To give you an idea, we saw nine patients in five hours and did about 25 extractions.”

Lisa is no stranger to volunteering. As a child, she was encouraged to volunteer as a Girl Guide, and after finishing university, helped acquired brain injury residents attend appointments. When she became a mother, Lisa and her children became involved in a nursing home visit program. She has also been on three CHAT trips as a volunteer dentist.

“I hadn’t done anything for a few years in a volunteering capacity, and then we moved to Fremantle a couple of years ago,” Lisa recalls.

“I had read about St Pat’s and Dom Longo [clinical lead at the time] was a mentor of mine when I graduated. I admired his work with St Pat’s and thought: ‘Now that I live in Fremantle, I’m going to go down and see if they need some help.’ Now I volunteer with St Pat’s every fortnight.”

Lisa says she does a spectrum of treatment at St Pat’s – including restorations, extractions, root canal and dentures.

“The St Pat’s dental clinic is set up as well as any private clinic,” she says. “The chair is brand new, there are digital x–rays, an OPG machine – there is nothing else you could want.

“In a physical sense, volunteering at St Pat’s is very similar to a private practice because the staff are well trained, and the equipment and materials are fantastic. The thing that is very different is that you must have a degree of flexibility, because at times, your day sheet bears no resemblance to what actually happens.  

“We sometimes have people drop in who may not have engaged with St Pat’s for a while and they have a toothache, and they stop at the health clinic and notice the dentist is on. We might have a missed appointment when someone has not turned up because some of the clients have difficulty with transport and health issues.

“I saw a fellow today who lives upstairs in the men’s accommodation, and he dropped in because he hadn’t seen us for a couple of months. I sat him down and said: ‘Do you feel like having some teeth out today?’ He said he wasn’t psyched up for it and left. Then five minutes later he knocked back on our door and said, ‘You know what? Go for it.’ We took all his remaining upper teeth out and he was just calling by. You need to be a little bit flexible in nature.”

According to Lisa, volunteering at the clinic changes the role of the dentist into a pure healthcare provider, because they do not charge for the service.  

“You lose the worry about, ‘Can the patient afford this?’ It’s nice to have that total freedom of care for patients, where you don’t have to think about affordability.”

According to Lisa, the patients they see are very grateful for the treatment they receive.

“A lot of patients ask if they can give you a hug once they finish treatment,” she says. “They really want to say thanks and they always thank all of the staff.”

Lisa says there have been many satisfying moments. “There is a really lovely lady who admitted to me she hadn’t brushed her teeth in about 10 years. She said to me: ‘Don’t you think you are going to make me change my mind and start brushing my teeth because every time I brush them, they get sore.’

“I sat down with her and there were lots of tears and lots of anxiety and we got a little bit of cleaning done and I said: ‘There’s no point us doing this if you don’t try to brush them just a little bit to improve the health of your gums.’ After a few weeks she returned, and her gums looked so much better. She said she was brushing them twice a week. When we had the last appointment, she said: ‘Guess what? I’m brushing them on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But I need a break in between.’

“We must have had a conversation about stress balls and how nice they are to hold on to during an appointment because when she came in for her last visit, she had hand-sewn these three little stress balls for us to give to patients to hold during treatment. It was the most beautiful hand-sewing you had ever seen. She is smiling and her gums are great and all we did was talk to her and provide a bit of scaling and cleaning.”

When asked if the volunteering experience has made her a better practitioner, Lisa says it has broadened her mind as to how difficult some people’s lives are in Perth. “It has made me a better listener,” she says. “I think it has improved my communication skills and it has probably helped me be a bit more flexible myself in private practice. I don’t do many extractions in private practice these days, so it also keeps my exo skills up.”

For a dentist considering volunteering with St Pat’s, Lisa says to go for it.  

“It’s such a fantastic organisation to be part of and the dentist is just one part of a big team making a difference,” she says. “The great thing is, they’re really flexible and you don’t have to commit to once a fortnight like I do, or even once a month. You might have a few weeks off work and want to go in for a couple of sessions or you might be changing jobs and want to go in and help. They don’t ask anything of you in terms of commitment, and whatever you can offer they are grateful for.

“I cannot think of any barriers that would put anyone off volunteering,” she adds. “It doesn’t matter what your experience level is, from a new graduate to a retiree, there is something everyone can offer to St Pat’s.

“Whenever I leave after a session at St Pat’s, I leave with such a sense of joy. Dentistry can be stressful, but this isn’t and that’s why I enjoy it so much.”

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