​​​​​​​Rodrigo Mariño

"Be humble, but proud of your achievements"

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Rodrigo Mariño

Country of origin: Chile

Occupation: Academic. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Next to my family, in my family home in Melbourne. Biggest surprise when arriving to Australia: Being a public health specialist, the amount of asthma, depression and allergies.

By Trini Abascal

Rodrigo Mariño is a dental surgeon and Professor of Population Oral Health at the Melbourne Dental School at The University of Melbourne. He is also the President, e-Oral Health Research Network of the International Association for Dental Research, and member of the editorial board of three international, peer-reviewed journals. He has also been a consultant to the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization. His research has helped to inform government policy and led to the establishment of national programs and teaching content. One of his projects was named by the NH&MRC among the Ten of the Best Research Projects of the year. A publication from this project was nominated by the Australian Dental Journal as the best scientific paper of 2010.

Contributions to Victoria

  • His research, focused on equality of access to oral health care, has informed government policy on the scope of practice of dental therapists in Victoria.

  • He has informed teaching content and practices in public health/health promotion, community dentistry, and gerontology courses.

  • He works as an academic in the top dental school in Australia in a University among the best in the world. He educates students into disease causation in relation to social determinants.

Tell us your story

As for many members of my generation in Chile, living abroad was a survival strategy, thus moving to Australia did not seem so daunting. I planned as best as I could for how I might adjust to a new environment, without any support network. When I arrived to Australia in 1993 I already had a dental degree from the University of Chile, and a Master in Public Health from the University of Minnesota. I came here on a scholarship from the University of Melbourne to complete my PhD. In the first weeks after my arrival, I was lucky enough to meet a fantastic group of Latino men, whom like me, had recently migrated (25 years later I still meet with some of them weekly as we became each other’s family). Despite of this support group, the first 12 months in Australia were very hard. I had to deal with a few crises all at once. I had just enough money, I was working as a research assistant, reduced to the level of a student again, as it was not possible to find a job in my field in a new country. My English, even though strongly accented, was just good enough. And like so many migrants, I had to supplement my income where I could. For months I got up at 5 am each morning, working for a couple of hours as a cleaner, before starting my ‘real’ job at the university. Things were so bad that I decided that this first year had to end as soon as possible so I declared that on the 1st of October of that year; it would be my New Year. This worked like magic. The city started to make sense, I started to recognise corners and hidden places. A series of small joys overwhelmed the bad, making me feel that somethings were starting to make sense. I recall clearly deciding that this was the place where I would stay and build my new life. Most importantly, 9 days into the “New Year”, I met my wife.  After completing my PhD, I worked as a Research Fellow and until 2004 as a Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of New England, in Armidale, NSW.

Rodrigo receiving an award for his work

Rodrigo receiving an award for his work

Currently, I am Professor of Population Oral Health at the Melbourne Dental School, in The University of Melbourne where I have worked since 2004.  I teach in the Bachelor of Oral Health and the Doctor of Dental Surgery courses. While my research work has been very diverse, the thread that unites it all is a commitment to improving equality of access to health care for all Australians. My research strongly focuses on oral health promotion and reducing inequalities in oral health status. I have established links and maintain continuous contact and research activities with major research and academic groups in Australia and overseas. These collaborations have resulted in joint papers, research projects, international symposiums, and capacity building activities, such as courses and academic exchange programs. I have published more than 135 papers in scientific journals as well as several major reports and 33 Books Chapters. I have also held several visiting academic positions at universities in Brazil, Canada, Chile and Portugal.

On a personal note, I am very happily married and am the proud father of three children. I live with my family in Alphington, biking distance to the Melbourne Dental School, which is how I do my daily commute.


Starting again - Migrating to Australia meant restarting professionally in a position much lower than those I had held at the time, and living in different, sometimes confusing, social norms. Despite my resolve, and all my preparation, in those early days I found hardship beyond my imagination. However, I knew that investing in me, through education, would always be a good investment. I also knew, and I tell this to my children, that hard times always have an end. Also, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to choose where to build a new chapter of my life.

Accent - After many years in Australia, my accent is sometimes a challenge as from time to time students send complaints about my accent or their right to have native English speaking lecturers. I have to accept that there is not much that I can do about my accent or these kind of attitudes.

Homesick - I still miss my country. I think it is difficult to lose the past and the memories. I have made great friends here, but it is not possible to recreate all that you have in common with your friends in your country of birth, because we do not share the clues for that understanding without words. Sometimes, something as small as a specific tree variety , Oriental plane trees, brings back memories of the place I grew up in Chile.


Rodrigo with his children in Chile

Rodrigo with his children in Chile

Resilience - Being born in Chile, one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, you learn to live with threats and uncertainties: natural, political, economic, environmental and social. These are defining characteristics that Latin-Americans bring to a new country, they moderate our world views, our relationships, and how we interpret experiences and our beliefs and values.

Equality - I believe the Australian value that has allowed me to contribute the most here is the belief in a “Fair go”. A crucial difference is that in Australia the emphasis is on equality of outcome, not only equal opportunity at entry. That makes a lot of a difference and this genuine commitment to equality aligns with my core personal values.

Piece of advice

Be proud - Be humble, but proud of your achievements.  Do not be shy or put yourself down, but above all never say “No” to yourself.  After all, as our Great Viola Chilensis (Violeta Parra) said in her Decimas (62): “I do not demand charity, no less ask for a favour; I request with great passion my right to work; I want to earn my bread, my flour and my hot chili pepper.”

Be proactive - Follow your curiosity and imagination. Look for opportunities to advance yourself, put your name forward at any available opening that may fit your profile.

Pay back - You will meet wonderful people in your journey. Like me, you will receive help and encouragement to move forward from lots of people, at times without them even knowing how much they were helping you. Pay back for that help; maybe not to that same person, but to others that you will find in your migration journey.

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Rodrigo running the marathon of Santiago (Chile)

in the next few years...

Rodrigo wishes to continue preparing new cohorts of oral health professionals and to see himself as a research academic who provides coaching and direction with strong emphasis on promoting oral health at the local level through collaborative programs that strengthen the research capability, and on translating knowledge into practice. If you wish to contact Rodrigo email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com

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