At the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, a group of enthusiastic and passionate individuals initiated their own dental mission to Honduras. A community service oriented member, Austin Baruffi, USC ‘13, has participated in several dental missions in the past and set in motion his own volunteer group for a dental mission to Honduras. Austin was inspired by working in mobile volunteer organizational groups and began to mobilize his plans for serving underserved populations in Honduras. Austin was the forerunner that coordinated third and fourth year dental students as well as alumni from the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC to participate in the trip.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Austin and learn about the mission to Honduras. Thanks Austin!
Was leading an international dental service trip different from volunteering on one?
Absolutely. The mentality was completely different because as a volunteer you are responsible for the patient in your chair. As a leader, you are responsible for every patient in all the chairs! Also, setting up any mobile clinic is an adventure in problem solving. Equipment breaks, supplies are lost or run out, people are scattered all over the place, everyone has a different idea of how to fix a problem, and ultimately it is on the leader’s shoulders to minimize and solve these issues. The leader is lucky if he or she even gets to practice dentistry! Overcoming these challenges is one of the reasons I love mobile dentistry.
What was your inspiration for leading the trip?
I have volunteered on a variety of volunteer trips that were all run very different from each other. I saw what each group was doing well and areas where groups could improve. My goal was to create a group and attempt to optimize the way it was run. I love these trips, the patients, the people who organize them, the people who volunteer with them, and I thought it was my turn to have a larger role.
What was your objective of the trip?
The mantra was, “Everybody we see is better off by us being there.” With that at the core, everything else was a bonus. I know that we achieved this objective too because we still keep in contact with the community leaders and local dentists where we worked. It was well established before we left that the most beneficial thing we can do is prevention work. Everyone that we saw received a cleaning and oral hygiene instruction. Even people that we were not able to get in a dental chair at least received a toothbrush, fluorinated toothpaste, floss and the education on how to properly use them.
What were the challenges?
Everything! There were so many moving parts and variables out of my control. The only way I was able to make it through the challenges is that the team I assembled was made of some of the best people I have ever met. Their mentality and energy was essential to overcome every curve ball that was thrown at us. The biggest challenges were ensuring that every member of my group was safe and that the gears were turning to make sure that they could do their procedures with minimum obstacles in their way. What was shocking is that fund raising was not nearly as difficult as I had imagined. There are some amazing people and companies out there that want to support you and help other people with their donations.
What was the most worthwhile memory?
Two of the people who volunteered for the trip were my dad, who is a dentist, and my mom, who is a hygienist. There was one patient that I treated with myself as the operator, my mom as the assistant, and my dad over my shoulder giving advice. It was really something special, having gone through all my education and ending up at a point where I could competently work with my parents helping people and doing something that we all love.
~Erin Aying, Arizona ’14