Building leadership and service into your dental education

 

In a world where success or failure is measured in fractions of a millimeter, it can be daunting for dental students to extend themselves beyond their curriculum. Despite the academic rigor and physical demands of dentistry, dental school is an important time to become involved in the community and grow as a leader.

I know because I was recently honored as one of seven recipients of the 2018 ADA Foundation Dental Student Scholarship – a $20,000 award. This scholarship will significantly enhance my efforts to increase access to care in my community and serve the dental profession as a future provider. I’d like to share some of my experiences in hopes that other dental students will be motivated to make a commitment to service in their dental education.

I was inspired to become a dentist while volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission dental clinic in my hometown of Yakima, Washington. In addition to working with individuals experiencing homelessness, I observed widespread inaccessibility to dental care in the general population. I quickly learned that the goal of dentistry is not only to perform treatment but to empower patients to take ownership of their health.

When I began dental school at the University of Washington (UW), I never hesitated to “say yes” to new opportunities. One weekend I’d be volunteering at the Kaiser Permanente clinic in Longview, WA or the downtown Seattle Union Gospel Mission, while the next, I’d be at Mary’s Place shelter providing screenings for women and children. Halfway through my D1 year, I co-founded the 501(c)(3) non-profit, Husky Health Bridge, to establish monthly dental clinics for Seattle’s oldest homeless encampment, Tent City 3. Thanks to dental student efforts, Tent City 3 has had a substantial decline in urgent care needs and a marked shift towards dental health maintenance services.

In my D2 year, I partnered with the UW Hispanic Student Dental Association (HSDA) to organize a pop-up clinic in Quincy, WA for migrant, agricultural workers. I am also a regular participant in other HSDA outreach events like the Safe Harbor Clinic and the Latina Health Fair. Now approaching D3 year, I am the student lead for “Health and Homelessness,” an oral medicine course that offers guest lectures by community leaders and facilitates service learning opportunities. Through this role, I have the privilege of introducing our guest speakers and engaging dental students in outreach.

Dentistry has redefined my life and it will redefine yours. During your dental school journey, remember that you are in a unique position to promote both the health and quality of life of others through service. The ADA Foundation’s scholarship is an honor to receive and a wonderful opportunity to advance the causes you support. I encourage first-year dental students to get involved and take leadership roles in service projects. You will find more rewards than you know. Second year dental students can apply for an ADA Foundation scholarship starting in early September, 2018. Go for it!

~Jessica Latimer, 2nd year dental student, University of Washington

This content is sponsored and does not necessarily reflect the views of ASDA.

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About ADA Foundation

The ADA Foundation is dentistry’s premier philanthropic and charitable organization, and a catalyst for uniting people and organizations to make a difference through better oral health. The ADA Foundation works to improve patient care and emphasizes the role of oral health in overall health.

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