As a three-year Give Kids A Smile (GKAS) Day co-coordinator, I had a clear vision of what our annual event on March 28, 2020, was going to look like. I would have never guessed a global pandemic would jeopardize the event itself and dental school life as I knew it.
In the days prior to being sent home, our team met with the deans of patient care at our school to discuss the options for the future of the event. While the status of our event remains uncertain, our team is dedicated to its next installment, whether that will be in 2020 or 2021.
It’s important to continue to host free-clinic events such as Give Kids a Smile Day so that dental students may learn the values of service and community outreach through dentistry. In the wake of canceled and postponed events, there’s an opportunity for student groups to improve and refine their clinic or outreach events. In the COVID-19 era, organization and coordination become even more paramount to putting on a successful event. Here are the most valuable clinic event planning tips that I’ve picked up over my time as a coordinator.
Market your mission
A mission statement expresses an event’s purpose and goals to future volunteers, patients and donors. At University of Michigan GKAS, we state, “Our mission is to provide the underserved pediatric populations of the southeast Michigan community with much-needed oral health care as well as education to prevent dental disease and promote lifelong oral health. In addition, we serve to introduce dental and dental hygiene students to a free clinic environment and help them experience the rewards related to participation in service and community outreach.”
The primary way we market this mission is through our Facebook page. Throughout the year, our team works to create fun and engaging content for our audience via ads, photo stories, videos and more. Encouraging volunteers and patient families to share content with their own social networks spreads the word about the event. Remember, photo consent is a critical tool to use to ethically advertise with photos from the previous year’s event.
Marketing in this way not only attracts patient families but also donors. This year we linked our Facebook page on grant applications. This allows grant allocation committees to learn more about the event and its importance in an interactive fashion.
Build valuable partnerships
For a small group of coordinators, it is hard to put on a high-quality event alone. Using partnerships that play to the strengths of your school will enhance your event and your local dental community. Our partnerships include the Washtenaw District Dental Society and the Michigan Dental Association. Throughout the year, we network with local dentists to get the word out about the event and recruit volunteers. Local and state dental associations can also provide a wealth of support and mentorship to us as student coordinators.
A relationship we have developed over the past two years is our collaboration with the Silver Diamine Fluoride Study Team, led by Dr. Margherita Fontana. Their study targets children ages 12 months to 71 months of age who have deep carious lesions. They have become important to our event screening process. Our event benefits by having proficient screeners who help determine the pediatric patient’s needs and their recommended provider level. In addition, the SDF team benefits by recruiting potential candidates to enter their study. These candidates are able to receive the SDF treatment on the day of the event, too.
Other important partnerships include local donors and vendors. To help thank your volunteers, your team can ask local restaurants or cafes to donate coffee and baked goods for a light breakfast. At our event last year, a local artist set up a face painting station in the waiting room, which was popular with patients and their families.
Lastly, if your event provides T-shirts for volunteers, meeting with apparel printing companies can help secure discounts on your order. Thanking your donors after the event and developing these relationships over time makes future donation requests more congenial.
With over 200 volunteers, clinic events can become chaotic if volunteer roles are not carefully assigned. Our team has attempted to create jobs that reflect the diversity in volunteer skills and interest level. One way to do this is by classifying patient care provider jobs by class year to reflect their clinical proficiency.
We also have an array of other jobs, such as student photographers, OHI activity leaders and our “Toothie” mascot to keep everyone occupied and engaged. Our event supports volunteers by hosting a meeting prior to the day of the event, in which we present the event logistics and instructions specific to patient care.
Impactful oral hygiene education
With longer than usual wait times for patient care, having activities available to patients and their families makes the day manageable and fun. Effective OHI helps fulfill our mission statement and increases the value of our event.
For example, our student volunteers run an interactive oral health activity area with coloring and kid-friendly typodonts. Our school mascot, “Toothie,” brings inflatable toothpaste and toothbrushes so that the children can practice their brushing on him. Additional suggestions include to supply a list of potential “dental homes” to continue routine care, such as our pediatric dentistry clinic, or your own oral health brochure. When we complete follow-up calls, parents are not only complimentary to the care they received but also the experience as a whole.
My involvement coordinating a free-clinic event has helped me understand the impact and importance of empowering the local community through dental care in combination with education. Most importantly, this experience established my commitment to service as a future dentist. As we move into the future, COVID-19 will impact the way we practice dentistry and organize patient care. What remains the same is the importance of free-clinic events and outreach to our education and development as future dental professionals.
~MaryClaire Kiernan, Michigan ’21