Truckie turned Oral Health Therapist: CQU Alumna's hard work pays off for rewarding career

25 January 2022

From driving trucks in a central Queensland coal mine to working as an Oral Health Therapist in the states south' CQUniversity Bachelor of Oral Health Alumna Samantha Barbeler was determined to do what it takes to pursue her dream job.

Originally from Kingaroy' Samantha lived her childhood in the fast lane' travelling alongside her family to compete in speedway races.

She participated in an international student exchange program in Grade 12' which saw her set off to Denmark for 12 months.

Once she settled back into Australia' Samantha started working as a Dental Assistant at the Kingaroy Dental Clinic until she craved a lifestyle change and made the 500 kilometre move to Emu Park in central Queensland.

For six years' Samantha worked a 'seven days on' seven days off' roster at the Lake Vermont Coal mine in Dysart as a Dump Truck Operator and Trainer Assessor.

"I absolutely loved working in the coal mine' but I wanted to plan for the future'" she said.

"I knew that if I were to ever start a family' working away and living at a mining camp would make that difficult. So' I started thinking of other jobs that I could do."

Reflecting on her time working as a Dental Assistant' she recalled how much she loved the variety of the role and the patients' and she knew that this was the career path for her.

"My Mother is a Dental Assistant' and my dream was to one day work alongside her. It would be the only time I could boss her around'" she said jokingly.

While working at the coal mine' Samantha began the Skills for Tertiary Education Preparatory Studies (STEPS) course with CQUniversity in preparation to pursue a degree in oral health.

Determined and dedicated' she studied every chance she got.

"I read textbooks while I was waiting in the truck and listened to recorded lectures as I drove between jobs on-site'" she recalled.

"I started looking into oral health courses when I came close to completing the STEPS course.

"CQU Rockhampton was the only university in Queensland that offered a Bachelor of Oral Health.

"I thought it was fate that I lived in Emu Park' so close to the only Bachelor of Oral Health course in the state that I had to apply' and in 2016' I was accepted."

That's when it reality hit' and Samantha had to leave the coal mine – a well-paying job that she loved – to follow her dream career.

"Financially' it was really tough. I felt that I had a lot to lose if it didn't work out'" she said.

Despite Samantha's initial concerns' she said she had an amazing experience studying at CQUniversity.

"The Rockhampton campus is beautiful. There were often kangaroos on the lawns in front of the health building' and the supervisors and support staff were fantastic' too'" she said.

"I don't think you would get the same experience in a major city in a course with hundreds of students.

"We even had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia for three weeks' where we provided oral health care to young school children. It was a life-changing experience."

Samantha graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor of Oral Health with Distinction.

She has returned to where her oral health career began – at the Kingaroy Dental Clinic – working as an Oral Health Therapist' where she travels in a dental van to different schools and the Indigenous community of Cherbourg.

"My favourite part of my job is working with and treating children. They absolutely melt your heart'" she said.

"One day I would love to work in the Northern Territory. Indigenous Health is one of my greatest passions."

Samantha encouraged the next generation of health professionals to never give up.

"Don't compare yourself to the other students' start study groups and make friends' and build each other up so you all succeed."

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