As a dental student at the University of Michigan, three separate vacations of two weeks each are generally all the break time we get each year. Like students at other programs, this time is usually spent recuperating after final exams and maybe taking a quick vacation to get away. However, thanks to opportunities put in place by our university, students here have the opportunity to travel to places like Greece, Kenya and Guyana during their breaks.
This past August, I was able to take an eye-opening trip to the Bauru School of Dentistry in Brazil. The trip allowed me to experience dentistry not only in a different school but in a different hemisphere. These immersive programs may not seem like top priority when starting school, but after experiencing it firsthand I cannot recommend it enough. Between gaining a greater global perspective and learning how dentistry operates in a different system, an experience like this is one every student should consider. It can provide you with benefits and knowledge you will use throughout your career.
One of the first things that I noticed when I arrived at the Bauru School of Dentistry was the cultural diversity. In addition to Brazil, there were students who came from all over South America, the United States and Canada. In fact, one student I met came from Peru without knowing any Portuguese. He had a wife and son and had spent his teenage years in California working in retail before landing in Brazil. Learning about each student’s journey was one of the best parts of the trip, and the stories I heard helped me gain perspective that has made me a more culturally sensitive
Learning how dentistry works in a different system was also valuable. Dental students in Brazil have their tuition paid by the government. Additionally, all of the care provided to patients is free. I was envious watching students devise treatment plans unbounded by the financial constraints we deal with in American dental schools. Watching their health care system operate was fascinating. It definitely helps me sympathize with patients who struggle to afford the “ideal”procedures here.
Ultimately, this experience was one of the most memorable moments of my dental education so far. Although it may be difficult to justify giving up a break to take a trip like this (especially if it is not funded), the benefits definitely outweigh the obstacles. The concepts you take away will make you a more sensitive and effective provider.
~ Neil Thomas, Michigan ’19