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Whats it like being a head of oral surgery in rural Australia?

Blog Author Victoria Mellish

Blog Date 11/02/2019

Victoria Mellish is Head of Oral Surgery at James Cook University in rural Australia, she tells us about her day…


My alarm goes off…. 

My working day is varied and flexible, so no strict wake-up call. However, I only wake before 6am if it’s for a holiday or a day on the Great Barrier Reef!

In Cairns you have to drive to work; there’s no traffic, but few buses. Sometimes I cycle in, but it depends on the weather. 
First thing I do is brew a cup of tea and check there are no urgent issues with the students or staff.  I make a weekly plan, so that I know what tasks I need to do each day. If I’m in clinic, then I come in early to prepare.

I’m responsible for…


I’m proud that I have created a new oral surgery curriculum at James Cook University (JCU) and an oral surgery specialty clinic. The subject was previously taught by general dentists, and fly-in-fly-out maxillofacial surgeons, which did not provide a very cohesive curriculum.  

Working in a small academic department at JCU, means that I can bounce ideas with fellow dental lecturers, hygienists and lab technicians.  

Gaining input from a whole host of professional backgrounds has enabled me to dramatically improve my teaching. JCU have also supported my diploma in healthcare education, which helped me to refine my curriculum.  

To encourage the students to actively interact with my teaching, I’ve introduced more hands-on learning, utilising our 80-chair state-of-the-art simulation lab.  

The student feedback is invaluable; to know that the videos have made them feel more confident in performing procedures is a great feeling.  

I got the job

I chose a vocational degree so that I could travel the World, but in 2016 I realised I’d only travelled to London. 

I had received an email through my work at King’s College London, describing the expansion of the School of Dentistry at James Cook University. I contacted the Head of Dentistry and arranged an interview whilst on holiday.  

It poured with rain and I fell badly into a pothole, but when I visited the University I was amazed! The potential to make my mark on the young dental school and the scope I would have in my role was incredible.  

My typical day

I spend my time writing lectures, creating digital teaching content, writing exam questions, marking community projects, updating clinical documents, supervising students on the clinic and treating patients. I’m surprised I get any work done as the staff, students and patients are so friendly here! 

Living in Cairns is great fun; I spend my weekends diving and snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef or hiking up tropical mountains.  

When I’m not taking selfies under waterfalls, the International airport means that I can visit Bali or Japan for a long weekend.

The worst part of my job…

Implementing change anywhere is a struggle. The JCU Clinic is arranged in bays of holistic dental care, which means that a year-4 clinic could have anything from a molar endo to a denture repair.  

Coming from the UK where treatment is arranged in specialties, made it difficult for me to adapt to the holistic style. However, the willingness of the staff and students to improve, meant that I was able to create a fully functioning oral surgery specialty clinic.  

The best part of my job…

Victoria Mellish-students-650px.jpg

Making a positive impact on the student experience is incredibly fulfilling. Students instantly pick-up on your enthusiasm and the effect you can have on a student’s career is immense.
One student I taught in London travelled halfway around the World to spend her elective shadowing me in Cairns, that was a great compliment!

Through my work I have been asked to lead workshops at conferences, provide regional CPD sessions that are video-linked across Queensland and have even been on an expert panel to review another rural Australian Dental School.  

Creating the oral surgery curriculum has been really fun. The knowledge and skills I have learnt out here in a rural and remote University are unique.  

Where else would you be able to work on community oral health projects, teach postgraduate implantology whilst dealing with 6-foot goanna lizards trying to get into the department?

After work…

I de-stress with cycling, swimming and going on holiday. I love photography and often carry a couple of cameras wherever I go. 

I’ve decided to move back to the UK after two years in Australia; the pull from my family is too great.  If anyone is thinking of making the move Down Under, then I would highly recommend going!  Working at James Cook University has been absolutely brilliant; it’s opened up my academic career exponentially.  

My advice is to be brave and reach for the job you want. I never would have had this opportunity if I had not replied to that email in 2016.

Do you want to expand your career? Do you fancy living abroad? Then grab that chance!

My Plan B

I always have a Plan B.  At the moment it’s travel photography; I’ve had three photos in the Lonely Planet magazine with one on the cover! Before Uni I did an art diploma and planned to go into product design or engineering, but I decided I would rather talk to patients than computer screens (but now I get to do both!).

Dr Victoria Mellish, Head of Oral Surgery
James Cook University, Cairns, Australia