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Volunteer Patient Program

No dental treatment is involved. No acting experience is required. No personal details are necessary.

The Volunteer Patient Program involves members of the public helping dental students and oral hygiene/therapy students learn how to communicate well with patients. The program is part of the communication skills course in the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) and Bachelor of Oral Health (BOH) degrees.

Good communication skills are an important part of being a good dentist or oral hygienist/therapist. Dentists and oral hygienists/therapists need to be able to communicate well with their patients for many reasons, such as:

  • when they need to ask patients questions about their dental and oral health
  • when they explain to patients the results of an examination or about possible treatment
  • when they educate patients about how to care for their own dental and oral health
  • and when they need to reassure patients who are anxious about dental treatment

Therefore, volunteer patients can provide a valuable service for our BDS and BOH students. As a volunteer, you help to prepare our students to eventually interact with real dental patients. We are seeking interested members of the public to participate in communication role-plays with BDS and BOH students.

A communication role-play involves a BDS or BOH student asking a volunteer patient a series of questions, or pretending to teach a volunteer patient about oral health, or pretending to assist a volunteer patient to cope with dental anxiety. The volunteer patient is provided with some guidelines for how to respond, and the teaching sessions are supervised by staff who provide guidance for students during the role-play. Volunteer patients are also welcome to talk to the students about their 'patient experience'.

  • Who can be a Volunteer Patient?

    Anyone who is interested in helping students learn communication skills can be a Volunteer Patient. We would like you to help us provide a wide variety of role play patients for our students. We welcome volunteers of all ages and backgrounds (e.g. education, culture/ethnicity, work experience), who speak various languages, not just English, and who may be able-bodied or have a disability. People with natural teeth and people with dentures are welcome to volunteer. The greater the variety of volunteer patients, the more experience our students can have.

  • What is Involved?

    You can be a volunteer patient for just this year or you may choose to be a volunteer patient on a yearly basis, according to your preference and availability. In the year(s) that you volunteer, you will need to come to the Dental School for training and teaching sessions.

    Information and Training Sessions

    There will be information and training sessions provided and we ask that all volunteers attend a session. At this session we will provide information about the program, demonstrate volunteer patients in action, show a training video, and answer any questions you may have.

    Teaching Sessions

    There will be a number of volunteer patient teaching sessions involving students in 2nd and 3rd year of the Bachelor of Dental Surgery and 1st year of the Bachelor of Oral Health degrees. You can choose to participate in as many or as few sessions as you prefer, depending on your availability.

    Each teaching session will run for approximately three hours. Each volunteer patient will work in a tutorial room with a small group of about 6 students and their tutor. Volunteer patients will have a rest break mid-way through the session.


    Refreshments (morning or afternoon tea) will be provided for volunteer patients at every session.


    We will reimburse you for public transport travel and/or your parking expenses for each time you volunteer, during training and teaching sessions.

  • Becoming a Volunteer Patient

    If you would like more information about volunteering in the Dental School or University, or would like to register your interest, please contact the University Volunteer Program Coordinator, Ms Kerry James, or the Dental School Volunteer Patient Program coordinator, Dr Vicki Skinner. Please note that Kerry and Vicki work part-time and so may not respond immediately to your enquiry.

    Kerry James (Office days Mon-Thurs)
    University Volunteer Program Coordinator
    Phone: +61 8 8313 3354

    Vicki Skinner (Office days Mon, Tues, Thurs)
    Dental School Volunteer Patient Program Coordinator

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Will I be examined or treated or receive any dental advice?

    No. You will not be required to undergo any dental care of any sort. Volunteer patient sessions are not dental visits. The Volunteer Patient Program does not include dental examination, dental treatment, or dental advice.

    Do I need to have any acting skill or experience?

    No. We want everyday people to come and interact with our students just as if they were visiting the dentist. We do not need experienced or professional actors. We will provide training sessions for new volunteers. At these sessions we’ll demonstrate volunteer patients in action and explain what is involved.

    Will my personal details be used in the communication role-plays?

    No. You will not be required to disclose any personal information (e.g. medical or dental information) during the communication role-plays. You will be given a pseudonym or role-play name to use. However, when you answer the student dentist’s role-play questions, you may choose to use some of your own personal, medical or dental information if you find this convenient and comfortable. Otherwise, you may construct your responses using the guidelines provided by staff.

    Are details about my participation confidential?

    Yes. All information that we have about you, all records, and all teaching sessions are confidential.

    Will it cost me anything?

    No. The only commitment is your time. We will provide refreshments and pay your travel or parking costs.

    How are sessions supervised?

    All training and teaching sessions are run by qualified teaching staff of the Dental School. Their role is to support the students and the volunteer patients.

    They will also provide advice and feedback, and help make the sessions as valuable as possible for both students and Volunteer Patients.

    When are the sessions held?

    • Information and Training sessions are held in late July and teaching sessions run in August, September and October
    • Sessions are held on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday afternoons, generally from 12.45 to 4.00pm; occasional sessions may end at 5.00pm

    What benefit do I get from being a Volunteer Patient?

    As a Volunteer Patient, you will have the reward of contributing to the education of our future dentists, hygienists and therapists, you will meet other Volunteer Patients and the students and School staff, and you will be giving something to the community.

    What if I cannot attend a session?

    If you are unable to attend a session, please contact the Volunteer Patient Program Coordinator (Dr Vicki Skinner) as soon as possible so that we can arrange for a substitute volunteer patient to replace you for that session.

    What if I can no longer take part in the Volunteer Patient Program?

    We understand that people’s lives change, and so if you find that you are no longer able to commit to being a Volunteer Patient, please contact the Volunteer Patient Program Coordinator (Dr Vicki Skinner) as soon as possible so that we can update our volunteer patient records.

    We will be disappointed to lose you, but we will be very grateful for the service you have provided and will welcome you back to the program if your circumstances change.

School of Dentistry

Level 5
Oliphant Building
North Terrace Campus
The University of Adelaide

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Student and Program Support Services Hub
T: +61 8 8313 0273

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