Outreach starts with you. Students champion a wide number of service efforts that improve the oral and overall health of the underserved. But translating these programs into private practice, as new dentists in a new community, can feel daunting or unfeasible. During dental school, we helped grow Nova Southeastern University’s …
Most students and faculty who organize and participate in overseas mission trips are motivated by the sincere desire to help others. Often they pay for their own travel through combinations of personal assets, donations and active fundraising. I think these mission trips are well-intended acts of caring. However, as a public health dentist I question the decision to spend so much time and money providing services that generally do very little to eliminate the underlying disease process, do not empower communities to improve their health status and waste resources on travel that might be spent in a much more cost-effective way to achieve improved oral health.
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.
As fourth year dental students, we completed our clinical outreach requirements at the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway through an international exchange program. We treated patients in the clinic, made many wonderful friendships and traveled the beautiful country of Norway. The combination of clinical practice, learning and working in an international health care setting led us to one of the most rewarding experiences in dental school. We strongly recommend that students take advantage of any opportunity to participate in dentistry in a novel setting as a way to expand your perspective and potentially practice dentistry abroad. The opportunity to explore various techniques and materials, and to improve patient communication skills, helped us to grow as health practitioners. Most importantly, we became more independent. For us, participating in this program changed our lives and our careers.