The first time she traveled to Kenya to spend a few weeks volunteering at a World Health Dental Organization (WHDO) clinic, Dr. Katie Vincer Sears admits she was nervous. In the Oct. 16 episode of the ADA’s Beyond the Mouth podcast, she remembers thinking, “What am I getting myself into?”
Upon arriving, though, she learned that the Maasai people, who have a strong sense of community, were not only looking out for each other but for visiting dentists and their children as well.
“In 2017 when we went to Kenya,” she says, “my kids were [ages] 4, 3 and 1. We got out of the vehicle, and they all ran [off] in separate directions. There are guards at the clinic just to make sure you’re OK, to walk you to and from dinner and essentially protect you from large animals. One guard, John, appears out of nowhere, and he has our 1-year-old by the hand, bringing him back. It’s a perfect example of how the Maasai treat each other. They’re all watching out for the children. It’s just a beautiful community.”
Dr. Vincer Sears found the experience so rewarding that she has made two trips to the Maasai clinic so far and plans to return again, family and all, in 2021.
She first found her interest in volunteering as a dental student, although finances made such efforts difficult.
“There were some mission trips in dental school,” she explains. “[Yet] I didn’t even have an extra $5. I really struggled with having the money to be able to do something like that as a student, and even when I was first practicing. Now it’s been a great opportunity to travel the world and to provide dental work to those in need.”
In addition to her work with WHDO, Dr. Vincer Sears participates in the ADA’s Give Kid’s a Smile and other local programs.
“I also participate in different functions around the community that may be providing free dental care, and we also have an extraction clinic here in Columbus, Ohio, where they are looking for doctors on Mondays,” she says. “I volunteer there as well. There are lots of different opportunities. I feel like there’s never enough time. But lots of great places to volunteer locally.
“[Give Kids a Smile] has been a great experience because some of my patients I treated stuck with me,” she continues. “Everyone has different situations that happen in life, and so we reach out to local schools. We had one family who had fallen on hard times during the recession. I saw the boys during Give Kids a Smile, and once the parents got back on their feet, they [were my] patients for years.”
Dr. Vincer Sears says she feels fortunate to be able to give back. “I feel like what comes back to me is tenfold. And the lessons that I’ve learned and the experiences that I’ve had have made me be a better dentist and a better person. I would encourage anyone who’s [thinking] about it to just do it. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it. It’s an incredible experience that will give you more than you ever expected.”
Dr. Vincer Sears’s comments were lightly edited and drawn from Beyond the Mouth, a podcast from the ADA Center for Professional Success. Beyond the Mouth is available at ADA.org/BeyondtheMouth and through most major podcast distribution channels.
This blog post is sponsored by the ADA Center for Professional Success.