There are numerous benefits dentistry offers, but unlike other professions, ours offers opportunities for travel. It may seem like you only travel to the simulation lab or clinic. Do not be fooled by the four walls of your school as there are opportunities. It is easy to get caught up in the business of our lives while in school. Endless deadlines, lab work, progress notes and consults can seem like a never-ending to-do list. Opportunities to travel lie in every pit and fissure.
There are very few times in a dental student’s life when things work out exactly as planned. My trip to Gambia, West Africa was exactly what I did not know I asked for. It granted me my first step towards dentistry. While working on my Master’s thesis, I was placed in the dental office to observe. The dentist there showed me what compassion, love and dentistry have in common. This experience planted a seed that helped me understand the importance of dental care. It also helped me see that dentists can positively impact the lives of others.
Wherever you go becomes a part of you. Global outreach grants you the opportunity to develop your skills while experiencing different cultures. Outreach experiences can mold and create confidence that cannot be taught in the clinic. The nature of our profession allows us to work from anywhere. Remember that dental health is not an American issue, but a global issue.
Traveling to foreign countries to provide dental care can be expensive. This summer I will be traveling to Zambia on a dental mission. The trip was funded by careful planning and a lot of letter writing. If you are passionate about global outreach, there is always a way to find the funding you need. I encourage you to grant yourself the experience of traveling with a purpose.
A common issue that drives people from outreach is cost and fear of the unknown. As students, we are taught a specific order of operation in the clinic. While true, this concept does not always translate to “real life” situations. Trekking outside of one’s comfort zone into unfamiliar territory is basically what dental school resembles. I experienced a dental office in Africa with no working chairs, overhead light, water or suction. Observing the limited resources available in practices abroad help me realize how fortunate we are. With each mission trip I take, my love for dentistry grows deeper. I share my experiences with other traveling dentists creating an environment for growth and learning.
I challenge you to begin the conversation about dentistry from a global perspective. We have a very unique opportunity to experience life from different perspectives. My outreach experiences have helped me become a culturally competent clinician. Life experience is the best way to sharpen skills and cultivate an environment that welcomes all walks of life. Dentistry allows you the freedom to experience life while giving back to those in need. Seize the moment.
~Olutosin Seriki, Texas A&M ’18