As dentists, serving the greater community through health care is not just our job but an incredible opportunity. Meharry is a historically black college located in Nashville, Tennessee, and as Meharrians, we are pilot leaders not only within our communities but globally as well. We understand that seeing someone who looks like you in a professional field matters. Every day we treat patients, but our focus is on healing the entire community, which can be affected by lack of resources and barriers to care. From volunteering at local youth centers after class to providing free dental treatment at community events, we enjoy providing quality outreach in our community and are determined to make a difference.
During ASDA’s 2019 Annual Session, Meharry ASDA received the “Outstanding Community Outreach” Gold Crown Award. One of the largest and most influential programs our student leaders have implemented on campus is our Meharry Oral Health Day. Four years ago, ASDA alumna Dr. Audrey Fields wanted to provide oral health treatment at no cost to the community. Today, Oral Health Day is one of our most anticipated events of the year.
Servicing more than 600 patients at an event this large takes a full year of planning and about 300 volunteers from the community. The event starts at 7 a.m. each year and lasts for about nine hours, although most volunteers arrive much earlier and stay later. Our patients are medically triaged before presenting for treatment. This year during Meharry’s third annual event, the dental school collaborated with students in our medical college, as well as students from several other universities in the area.
During Oral Health Day, a complete medical history is taken and vital signs are recorded as the patients are screened for treatment. If a patient is deemed unable to receive treatment based on our findings, we explain that the treatment is not the best option for them at this time and provide referrals to the hospital if necessary.
Based on the patient’s chief complaint, we put them into three groups: prophylaxis, fillings or extractions. Extractions are further broken down into simple or surgical, and each patient is sent to receive their specific treatment. Because this event involves the entire community, we partner with local grocery stores, restaurants, dental offices, and a plethora of other vendors and organizations. We plan for many variables, including medical interpreters we may need, overnight security and traffic guides, inclement weather and entire meals to feed our volunteers and the community.
At the 2018 ASDA National Leadership Conference, Meharry ASDA alumna Dr. Mirna Azer and student dentist Jordan Pierre presented “32 Problems but a Tooth Ain’t One,” which highlighted the planning of and involvement in Oral Health Day. It was an honor to be recognized at the national level and a wonderful opportunity that allowed us to help guide other students who may be interested in planning a large community event at their schools.
As Meharry’s Fourth Annual Oral Health Day approaches and gains more national recognition, it is our hope that other chapters that have dreams of starting events like this do not feel limited by the lack of experience in the field.
In January 2020, as a part of ASDA’s Week of Service, Meharry students will kick off activities by participating in a community service event in honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service holiday. The remainder of the week will be filled with events targeting low socioeconomic, geriatric and pediatric populations, as well as environmentally friendly events.
As Meharrians, we support one another and are excited that we can be pioneers in dental students taking on such large feats. As we continue to matriculate through school, we are constantly reminded of our purpose. Becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves and leaving a legacy is something Meharrians take great pride in as we continue to make an impact.
~Rayna Turner, Meharry ’21
ASDA’s Week of Service is Jan. 17-25, 2020. Start working with your chapter leaders now to organize an event that serves your community. You also can participate in the national canned food drive challenge. Visit ASDAnet.org for challenge details, event ideas and resources.