Victorian Undergraduate Dental Tutorials


For nearly 50 years undergraduate dental students in Victoria have had access to a unique set of tutorials given by senior members of the dental profession. The Victoria Branch of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons has arranged these tutorials for the last 12 years but prior to that, they were run by a single individual.  Many dentists who attended these tutorials when they commenced have now reached retirement age.  How the tutorials began and survived for so long is an interesting story and a reflection of the dedication of one man.

At the northern end of the University of Melbourne is a beautiful avenue lined with 100-year-old elm trees called College Crescent. Along this road are the halls of residence. These colleges, including Ormond, Trinity, Queens and Newman Colleges are significant historical buildings in Melbourne. The colleges were built by the various Christian denominations to provide accommodation for country students attending Melbourne University over 100 years ago. Many Fellows of the RACDS would have stayed at a similar institution, The Women’s College, at Sydney University, while sitting their primary examinations.

The colleges all have a similar hierarchy. There is a Junior Common Room consisting of the undergraduate students, and a Senior Common Room consisting of postgraduate students, academics and visiting scholars from all over the world. As part of their contribution to college life, the members of the Senior Common Room assist the undergraduate student by hosting formal tutorials. These are separate to the university curriculum. There is some crossover, for example, if one college had a strong legal representation in their Senior Common Room, law students from the other colleges would attend the law tutorials at that particular college. The college tutorial system is a key component of college life and tutorials in Law, Arts and Medicine are seen as important for success in these courses. The college tutorials became so popular that the colleges introduced non-residential student memberships of the college so students not living at the college could attend the tutorials.

The author’s personal reflection is that college life was fulfilling in social, sporting and cultural aspects and he left with many lifelong friendships but also a particularly underwhelming academic record. The college tutorials most likely saved his dental career from oblivion.

In 1969, a sixteen-year-old Ross Bastiaan was a first-year dental student who enrolled as a non-resident student at Trinity College. He found himself with the medical and veterinary science students in first-year tutorials which covered the basic sciences. However once these courses went their separate ways in second year, no further tutorials were available for dental students. A commitment was made to address this at some stage in the future.

After completing his BDSc in 1973 Ross moved on and commenced his Master’s degree the following year, as was the policy at the time. He started organising tutorials for 2nd 3rd 4th and 5th years students at Trinity College, commencing at 6.00 pm and concluding at 10.00 pm. In the second year of his Master’s degree, he became a resident and member of the Senior Common Room at Janet Clarke Hall, a residential college for women. He was also appointed the Medical Officer at the college (Perhaps a story for another Edition!)  Ross continued to run the tutorials for 3 years before he went to London to further his education.

After he completed his studies and returned to Melbourne Ross commenced work in private practice in Collins St as a Periodontist.  Ross then resumed the tutorial program for dental students in 4th and 5th years. Demand for the tutorials was high so Ross approached a number of the colleges to see if non-residential status could be made available to the dental students. The proposed fees were considered too high, so the tutorials were moved to a lecture theatre at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, which was over the road from the Royal Melbourne Dental Hospital.

As a Periodontist, Ross realized his knowledge of other dental subjects such as orthodontics, endodontics and occlusion was waning, so he sought the assistance of colleagues in these fields. The first group of tutors included Bruce Taylor (Orthodontics) Garry Nervo (Endodontics) and Scott Fowler (Occlusion). These among others went on to provide tutorials for many years.

The tutorial system became more structured with students paying a modest annual fee and the tutors being paid an equally modest stipend. Ross kept a close eye on the program which was annually reviewed in consultation with the students and the content was altered accordingly. Ultimately the tutorials were held at a lecture theatre at the Melbourne University Medical school.

In a recent interview, Ross conceded that it was not all smooth sailing (despite Bruce Taylor’s contribution!) and that he did come up against some opposition. His aim was to show students how dentists operate in private practice and how the skills we develop at University are applied in clinical dentistry. It was not an exercise in didactic teaching.  Despite these clearly stated aims, some academic staff viewed the tutorials with suspicion and Ross’s long-standing relationship with the Melbourne Dental School became strained.

Undeterred Ross continued the program, tutoring in periodontics and oral medicine and doing the administration for the program. Almost 3 decades went by and University hostility gradually diminished. By around 2008, with the program now seen by dental students as an integral part of undergraduate education, Ross saw an opportunity to step back and handed the program to the Victorian Regional Committee of the RACDS.

At that time the RACDS had a strong presence in Victoria. Ross had been President of the College as had John Harcourt and subsequently, Werner Bischof and Patrick Russo were also College Presidents. Victorian federal councilors included Suzanne Hanlin, Warren Shnider, Martin Tyas, Rowan Story, Denise Lawry and Chris Callahan. There was never a problem recruiting a senior college committee member to give the welcoming address at the first tutorial for the year and make a few remarks about the RACDS. Undoubtedly the seeds for future study at RACDS level were sown at these tutorials. Ross Bastiaan has stated that one of his aims with the tutorial program was “that the RACDS would gain a foothold within the student body and be part of a lifetime learning process for them” He also wanted the students to recognize that the RACDS offered quality postgraduate teaching.

In 2008 students at LaTrobe Dental School in Bendigo heard about the tutorials on the student grapevine and formally requested they be allowed to attend as well. Enrolments for the program approached 100 and even with rural placements for students, attendance numbers were usually around 80. Students at rural placements would car-pool and drive to Melbourne for the 2-hour sessions held on Monday evenings.

Many enquiries were received by the Committee from prospective tutors to the degree that there was a waiting list to replace the trickle of tutors who decided to retire, often after many years as tutors.

Under the management of the Victorian Branch of the RACDS, the tutorials have remained very popular with students. However, the tutorials have become increasingly difficult to attend for the final year students as rural placements have become a greater component of the University curriculum. This year for the first time current Victorian Branch Chairman, Claudia Yung had advised that the live tutorials were to be recorded and subsequently available online to allow greater access to the program. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and the limitations it placed on live teaching resulted in a significant disruption to this year’s program.

Currently, the program is administered by Victorian Branch Councilors Michael Yoon and Nigel Souter. They endeavour to maintain the altruistic principles behind Ross’ motivation to provide these tutorials to the students for many years to come.

Photo of Author LM and Dr Bastiaan

Quote from Dr Bastiaan
“I view my tutorial program for the undergraduates as the most important thing I did in my career. I have done a lot with my life but this 40 plus years of private education of others stands out for me”