It is that time of the year where we remember those that served in the armed forces, we were lucky enough to and catch up with our very own Clinical Advisor, Dr Marguerite Reith. Serving for over 20 years in the Royal Air Force, Dr Marquerite's energy and passion for the armed forces and dentistry is admiring. Whilst she is humble about her accomplishments, we got Dr Marguerite 'In the Chair' to chat about her time in the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Air Force.
What inspired you to enter the dental industry?
I always knew I wanted to do something in healthcare, but I also liked to work with my hands and enjoyed doing things that were creative - dentistry ticked those boxes.
Tell us a little about your career so far
I graduated from UQ but had a scholarship with the RAAF which was great because I was able to give up three part time jobs and focus on studying. My first postings were to Melbourne and then Newcastle with a stint in Malaysia in between.
After eight years in the RAAF I transferred to the RAF and dragged my family around the UK and Germany (they didn’t seem to mind too much) with detachments to the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Netherlands and Afghanistan.
I took on a number of roles in the RAF & RAAF including general dentistry, postgrad training in sedation, forensic odontology, recruitment, teaching roles, management positions and strategic workforce planning.
My family eventually pulled me back to Australia (fair is fair, I suppose) and I took up a role managing the Oral Surgery department back at UQ and I also started up a public dental sedation service (the first in Queensland and only the second in Australia).
What’s the most memorable moment of your career?
Deployment to Afghanistan. Although it was certainly an austere and often dangerous environment, I really felt as if all the years of operational training were finally relevant. Everyone out there was focused on their role, priorities were clear and the normal petty concerns of the workplace were almost non-existent. I had the chance to see my colleagues at their very best - I had the privilege of working with some truly inspiring people.
You served over 20 years in the Royal Air Force, what was it like serving in the RAF as a dentist?
I would describe it as dentistry with another dimension.
We were very well looked after with excellent equipment and very good training opportunities and there were high clinical standards. All practitioners and clinics were audited annually. It sounds a little threatening having your practice inspected and a senior clinician sitting in the corner of the surgery observing your treatment and looking at examples of your work but it was done in a very positive and supportive way and I think it made us better and more reflective clinicians.
You had to be fit and do a fitness test every 6 months, weapons handling tests annually and undergo other training in the core military skills. I always felt part of a bigger picture where everyone had a role to play in the wider team… and there was an excellent social life embedded in the organisation.
However there are some disadvantages - there’s LOTS of moving around! My husband and I recently counted the number of times we have moved house since we have been married (19).
Why did you join the RAF?
I loved the military lifestyle but the Australian Defence Force was comparatively small with no opportunities for deployments at that time. I saw an opportunity to join a bigger organisation and combine this with the chance to travel the world whilst working. Our children were still young enough that travelling around wasn’t going to affect their education. It was only supposed to be for 6 years but it extended out to 21!
How has your career set you up for your role as Clinical Advisor for Maven Dental Group?
It made me recognise and value good leadership.
In more senior positions, I had significant responsibility for clinical governance and Fred Calavassy’s (Maven Dental’s Clinical Director) passion for clinical best practice really resonates with me. This must be at the forefront of what Maven does and must set us apart. Just as we wanted to do our best for those we were sending to war, we want to do our best for our Maven patients.
The military is renowned for its regimentation, processes and checklists (especially in aviation) and I think there is a lot we can learn from this. A good example is infection control where a tight consistent process can improve patient safety and once we have a routine system in place for everyday, but critical, processes we can concentrate on doing better dentistry for our patients.
Most importantly we are a team. In the military, we all went through some extremely difficult challenges at different times and the fact that we went through them with those we trusted to support us made extraordinary achievements possible. Maven Dental is all about teamwork.
And last but not least, what makes you smile?
Looking at beautiful scenery. Being in the Air Force for so long there is nothing more beautiful than looking down on the country side, or mountains or any scenery.