THE first woman to set up her own dental practice in Southland has retired.
After studying at the University of Otago Faculty of Dentistry in Dunedin, Robyn Hunter graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 1977.
Three years later, having working as a dentist, the former Southland Girls’ High School pupil established her own practice in Windsor in 1980.
Asked why she chose what could have been described as an unusual career for a woman in the 70s, Robyn credited her father with inspiring her, as well as her interest in the sciences.
“My father was a doctor. Combined with my interest in the sciences, I could see that dentistry gave a very good work-life balance.”
There were 13 women in her graduation year, which was uncommon “in the day”, so much so, that a photo of them appeared in the local newspaper showing them welding, which they did when working with metals.
People had a totally different mindset now towards professional women, Robyn said.
Now known as Robyn Jordan after marrying Lindsay Jordan, the couple have three children, Mark (34) an accountant, Peter (31) a dairy farmer and Cathy (29) who was well-known for her cycling feats and is a children’s play systems innovator.
Although Robyn “built the practice up from scratch”, when their children arrived it was time to share the practice to enable her to achieve that work-life balance.
Dentist Harvey Robertson (BDS) joined the practice in 1984, resulting in the formation of Jordan & Robertson Dental about 1986, “and we have worked together very happily for all these years”.
The key to sustaining a dental practice and profession with children and family was a life-work balance, which Robyn credited her husband and mother to help achieve.
“Lindsay has always been very supportive and helpful… as was my mother.”
A compassionate and caring person, Robyn said she enjoyed “the challenge of providing a high standard of dental care to suit her patients’ wishes, needs and budgets”, with the aim of looking after “her patients so they have well-maintained and healthy mouths throughout their lives and felt relaxed coming to the surgery”.
One of the main challenges in today’s world was “the cost of dentistry for the customers, as well as the cost of running a practice, which was extremely high”, she said.
Although there was help for those who had Community Services Cards or who were on a benefit, Robyn said there needed to be more help for more people to access dental treatment.
On balance, she added although there was free dental care for people up to the age of 18, not enough people took advantage of it.
Asked why, she said, maybe people were scared of going to the dentist, or they didn’t recognise the need for regular dentistry.
Oral care began with “as simple as moderating sugar or having it with meals, and cleaning teeth really well twice a day”, she said.
Dentistry was always changing, Robyn said, which added to the enjoyment of the profession.
“There have also been incredible advances in materials and technology and there is always something to learn.”
One of the biggest changes was the amount of paperwork which had to be undertaken, she said… “compliance, accountability, computerisation”.
However, her highlights throughout the decades had been the people and “the satisfaction of doing a good job, restoring someone’s smile and easing pain and infection”.
“I have had lovely patients, as well as staff and working as a team.
“Talking to people is one of my strengths… Building relationships and talking to people is important to help them to relax.”
In the early 2000s, Robyn helped campaign for fluoride in the drinking water which she credited as “making a huge difference” in helping to reduce cavities.
She also volunteered on the humanitarian Mersey Ship, which took teams of medical professionals (primary health care, dentistry, optometry, ophthalmology) and general volunteers, in Fiji and Samoa as a dentist.
She was also proud of her practice’s contribution to the Windsor Mall, which in conjunction with Russell Cunningham Properties, was completed in 2007.
“It is lovely to have a beautiful surgery [on the second floor of the mall] with a view of Bluff Hill.”
Heavily involved with the New Zealand Dental Association, Robyn had served on the national New Zealand Dental Association board, regularly taking part in continuing education and will still be a part of its mentorship programme to help new graduates in their first year or two, she said.
Still a member of the Southland branch, she has had every role, including president, secretary, treasurer and as a board member.
“I have worked 42 years in dentistry, 39 in my own practice”… it was now time for Robyn to focus on different things, although she was still available for locums, she said.
Which gives Robyn more time to spend with Lindsay, their children, their partners, six grandchildren and friends, as well as her interests in photography, Rotary, Inner Wheel and St Paul’s Church, and of course to spend more time in Te Anau.
“It is also nice to have time to read… and have the time to be more with the family.
“It’s been a privilege. I thank all my loyal patients over all the years. And thank the laboratories, dental specialists, firms and various people who have been a part of my team, especially the dental assistants, and administrators.”