Most health professionals have an underlying desire to help others but one extraordinary Health Group alumnus is using her expertise to ease the pain of thousands of people around the world, even during well earned holidays.
A 2010 graduate from the Griffith University School of Dentistry and Oral Health, Ajitha Naidu Sugnanam has forged an outstanding vocation in service to her country as well as to those less fortunate than most.
“I wanted a career as a health clinician to help alleviate people’s pain, so I accepted a late scholarship with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to complete dentistry,” says Ajitha.
During her time at Griffith, Ajitha demonstrated her altruistic nature by representing Hope4Health, the Griffith University student initiative promoting health equality for all.
After graduation Ajitha took up her position within the ADF and was posted and deployed to clinics both nationally and abroad.
“I’ve worked in Fregon (SA) with the Royal Australian Army through the Indigenous outreach program Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Programme (AACAP) and had the opportunity to take part in a humanitarian mission to Nepal,” she adds.
“After completing my minimum period of service to the ADF, I decided to stay on because although my work is sometimes challenging it is always incredibly rewarding.”
Ajitha was recently promoted to Squadron Leader in the Royal Australian Air Force, and is one of only four active dentists in the RAAF to hold such a distinction.
“I’m currently working at the NATO base in the Greater Middle East as the only dentist caring for service members and civilian contractors supporting 43 different nations,” Ajitha says.
“I work seven days a week, generally from 8am to 5pm but sometimes we have mass casualties arriving outside those hours, in which case I help with triage and provide auxiliary support for the medical teams.”
Even more astounding is how Ajitha spends her spare time.
While stationed at Tindal in the Northern Territory, she cooked for up to 150 people every fortnight to raise funds for the 2016 trip to provide overseas aid to people in need.
Ajitha is unsure why anyone would think her particularly remarkable but concedes that it might have something to do with what she does on her holidays.
“I get four weeks off a year and I’ve been able to spend two weeks of that volunteering in areas where health services are limited,” she explains.
“I would love to stay longer than that but there’s a lot of coordination involved and so far I’ve been funding the trips myself.”
In 2015 Ajitha spent her annual leave establishing a temporary community health camp in Nizamabad, India where 15 clinicians and 60 volunteers provided free medical and dental services to more than 2,500 people.
In 2016 she provided a similar service in Bantumilli, India to offer medical and dental care to more than 3,000 patients.
Ajitha’s commitment to Australia and passion for helping others is a credit to her profession and has enabled her to make a real difference in the world.
Her humanitarian journey started at Griffith and will continue well into the future.
“The next step will be registering an NGO in order to help provide greater support and assist in funding” says Ajitha.
“There’s so much more we could do if we had more backing.”