Dentistry: Dr Matthew Hopcraft

Dr Matthew Hopcraft (BDSc 1994, MDSc 2000, PhD 2010) is CEO of the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch.

Dr Matthew Hopcraft (BDSc 1994, MDSc 2000, PhD 2010) is CEO of the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch, and was profiled in the national news upon accepting the position.

What are your strongest memories of your time at the University of Melbourne?

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a bit of time at the University of Melbourne, as an undergraduate student, then later undertaking post-graduate studies and also as a staff member.

What goals did you set yourself when you finished University and have you stuck to that plan?

I have never really been a goal-setter, and so although my plan from high-school was to become a dentist and go and work in a country dental practice, that changed while I was at university. I joined the Australian Army as an undergraduate through a program designed to sponsor students as part of their recruitment process. It seemed like a good opportunity, so I embraced it. Although I only signed up for three years of service, after I graduated I loved the job so much that I stayed for more than seven years. I was also able to undertake a Masters in Community Dentistry by Research degree through University of Melbourne whilst I was in the Army, looking at the impact of water fluoridation on tooth decay experience in young Australian adults. This led me to a career in academia, and I left the Army to take up a role at Melbourne Dental School teaching general practice dentistry and public health. From there, I undertook a PhD looking at oral health of older Australians in nursing homes. I’ve worked in pretty much every area of dentistry – public and private practice, teaching and research, regulation, advocacy and industry. My current role is the CEO of the Australian Dental Association (Victorian Branch), representing the interests of all dentists in Victorian and promoting the oral health of all Victorians. It’s certainly not a goal I had ever set for myself, but a role that I really value.

What drew you to public dental health and what do you love about it?

My good friend Dr Nathan Cochrane once said that a dentist in clinical practice can help hundreds or many thousands of people each year, but as a researcher he had the ability to help millions of people. For me, public health is the same. I enjoyed the work I did as a clinical dentist, and derived a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I was helping to improve the oral health and wellbeing of my patients. But in the work that we do in public health, I have the opportunity to impact a much larger, and often more vulnerable, group in the community.

What are some of the highlights of your career so far?

I’ve been really lucky to have some amazing experiences in my dental career – doing work in remote Aboriginal communities on the Cape York Peninsula and in Tonga, presenting dental research at conferences in places like Lithuania, the Netherlands, Canada, Spain & France, serving as the President of the Australian Dental Association (Victorian Branch), being involved in the education of approximately 1000 dentists at the Melbourne Dental School, including a role as the Director of Clinical Education, and my time in the Australian Army. And I’ve been fortunate to have some pretty notable experiences outside of dentistry – particularly my time on MasterChef Australia in 2015. The exposure that this gave me has been beneficial in pursuing my public health and advocacy passions, as well as being a unique experience in itself.

What does a normal day at work look like for you?

There’s no such thing as a normal day for me now, which is one of the things that I love about the job. My time ranges from talking to dentists about the issues that are confronting them in practice, working with our great team in the office to deliver a comprehensive suite of services to help our members, meeting with external stakeholders and advocating through traditional and social media for measures to improve oral health and building relationships with a range of partners. Every day brings something different.

Do you have any advice for current students or recent graduates of your discipline?

My advice for students and recent graduates has always been to look for opportunities when the present themselves, and never be afraid to try something different. Although most dentists will follow a fairly traditional path into practice, there is plenty of diversity out there – whether it is exploring options in regional and rural areas, or public dental practice, to getting involved in advocacy outside of clinical practice. It’s the best way to build up experience and find out what you really enjoy, and what you are good at.