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Reaping rewards of a good work ethic

Harnie Jo has achieved a lot in her 28 years. The Gisborne dentist is an accomplished pianist and recently travelled to Nepal as part of a grassroots volunteer mission to provide dental care. She speaks with Sophie Rishworth about having a good work ethic instilled young by her almost “tiger mum”.

An acknowledged but seldom talked about aspect of dentistry is that it comes with a high depression rate.

Gisborne dentist Harnie Jo has thought a lot about this, and why depression has affected her chosen profession more than others.

“Back in the day, being a dentist meant working alone, usually in a one-man practice.

“So there was no collegial support, and a lack of social connection.”

The anxiety from patients could also contribute to an unfavourable atmosphere, she says.

“People think it doesn’t affect dentists but I find it does. If people are anxious you absorb that too and can finish a day mentally exhausted.”

Dentistry is not what it was 20-30 years ago, she says.

Now at dental conferences they talk about anxiety control for patients, making it a better experience for them and perhaps wiping any memory of a past trauma when local anaesthesia wasn’t used.

She took the job in Gisborne after seeing an Ocean Dental Centre recruitment advertisement online.

It was different to the others, it focused more on the lifestyle Gisborne could bring.

That sealed it for Harnie. Now her evenings are spent running on beaches, enjoying less traffic and having more time for hobbies like her music.

Harnie, a New Zealand citizen, was born in South Korea.

She moved here when she was three with her parents and older sister, and a younger sister was born once the family settled in Christchurch.

She has not thought about the future much, but the combination of so much grounded study combined with a yearning still to learn means there is plenty of scope for her to go further.

Grateful to her parents“I don’t want to say mum was a tiger mum, it does seem to be part of our culture. But compared to other parents, she was very strict.

“It was about the concept of putting work in and getting results.”

For two to three hours a night the sisters would sit at the dining room table studying.

Of course there were complaints but after a while it became the normal routine, she says.

“I thank them for that now. Our parents instilled a good work ethic in us as young people.

Her elder sister is a doctor and Harnie followed in her tertiary steps — doing her degree at Otago University as well.

Having an ambitious mum extended into some great habits — like brushing her teeth twice a day, for example.

“You’ve got to start them young. Build habits over a lifetime.”

Harnie visited Nepal last year as part of a volunteer team of dentists.

Extractions were the main requirements for the Nepalese people — many of whom had no oral hygiene, and broken teeth down to the gum line. Patients sat in plastic garden chairs and the volunteer dentists wore camping headlights. Some of the patients had travelled nine hours to get there.

Harnie said they “bunny-hopped” for 13 hours over a rocky road in a vehicle with very little suspension, and no seatbelts, to volunteer in a hospital that had no walls on the top floor.

But the “open air” environment suited her in the 30-degree heat.

She loved the experience, helping people and being part of a team.

Harnie started piano lessons at 11, and loved it.

Last year, she passed the highest level of piano, grade eight, and has performed in the Sunday Afternoon Concert Series. She is also a valued member of the Gisborne Choral Society.

Harnie loves the social side performing brings as playing the piano, much like being a dentist, can often be a solitary exercise.

Gisborne dentist Harnie Jo (on top of the piano) is a valued member of the Gisborne Choral Society. Pictures by Liam Clayton