For myself and about five others in my class at Loma Linda dental school, service has become an addiction. In Redlands, Calif., about 10 minutes away from school, there is a free dental clinic that has serious impact on the underserved. Some patients come from as far as Temecula, about an hour drive. The Blessing Center hosts Loma Linda dental students twice a week in the evenings to do various dental procedures from cleanings to restoratives to complicated surgical extractions. If it’s an emergency or an urgent concern, we can do it. We’ve even started a once a week denture clinic, in which we only charge the lab fee and can produce anything from a flipper to a metal-frame partial denture or a complete denture. All dental and hygiene students are encouraged to sign up, regardless of year and experience. It is often difficult for dental students to find clinical opportunities their first year where they can be utilized efficiently, but this clinic provides that experience if a student is interested. It can be overwhelming to assist an upperclassman on a surgical extraction when you’ve only been in school for a couple of weeks. Periosteal elevators, rongeur forceps and 151S forceps only mean so much in the didactic setting, but when an upperclassman is expectantly waiting for the delivery of such an instrument in the clinical setting, you really have to snap up the vernacular and learn quickly.
Beyond the regular dental student, who usually attends once a month, there is a ‘core’ group of students with perhaps a more wearisome task – maintenance. This core group of students are tasked with ensuring that operations run smoothly throughout the night. Responsibilities include maintaining instrument clean up and availability, setting up portable units and chairs and disinfecting after each patient, management of patient triage stations, deciding the right radiographs to be taken with digital sensors and a portable x-ray machine, correctly charting patient files and notes in the computer, scheduling following visit notes and much more.
For most students, the Blessing Center, or “Compassion Clinic” as it’s known at Loma Linda, starts at 6 p.m. and runs until around 10 p.m. There is so much effort that goes into this clinic that has really shown me how much work it takes to run somethng that gives back to others. It takes money, enthusiastic dentists and students, front-office staff to make sure patients are scheduled correctly, and a lot of time to make it happen twice a week, every week
I wasn’t part of the ‘core’ group until I started volunteering as much as I could as a first-year student. I would volunteer when sign-ups were empty, which were usually before tests and finals, and eventually was invited to start coming regularly. I was also invited to go to Nicaragua with a group of dental students on a yearly dental mission trip during the summer. It’s tough to juggle week night clinics on top of school, but for reasons my buddies and I cannot explain, by divine inspiration, we can’t get enough. If someone is giving back to the underserved, I want to be a part of it both here in Southern California, and wherever it’s needed for the rest of my life.
What motivates you to give back? Let us know in the comments section below.
~John Buie, Loma Linda ’16