If you catch a first year dental student outside of the gross anatomy lab, inside the simulation clinic, or enduring late nights in the library you may be surprised to hear the enthusiasm they have for the profession that awaits them. The long hours spent studying fundamental sciences seem shorter knowing it will provide valuable confidence during patient care. However, no textbook can truly replicate patient interaction. “For almost a year now, my head has been deep in books, powerpoints, and a typodont’s plastic mouth and devoid of real human experience. Seeing patients today reminded me that I am working towards being able to treat patients like that myself” (C. Johnston). The Oral Health Promotion course taken this spring provided a context for students to realize this eagerness through meaningful interactions at community centered service programs.
With limited spare time to commit to service, many D.M.D. candidates took advantage of school supported initiatives such as volunteering at the Predental Day for prospective students, volunteering at the Sharewood clinic that offers free health screenings, or participating in community outreach programs domestically and overseas.
Tufts ASDA chapter recently started Predental Day for potential applicants to see the campus, experience life as a dental student, and most importantly receive invaluable information regarding applying. “I was able to help and relate to the students by talking about my own experiences when applying to dental school” (G. Calandrelli). Nearly 50 first year dental students empathized with the pre-dental prospective students by volunteering their time and advice on how to aim towards becoming an involved dental student.
Many active dental students participated in class and school events, as well as in the community. The Sharewood Clinic offers dental students of all years to volunteer in the local area and provide dental access to a population “with very different personalities and levels of oral health care” (J. Dobbins). Through personal interactions, students are able to exercise the material gathered from courses such as Introduction to the Dental Patient, Medicine, and Operative Dentistry under supervision.
Specifically at the Sharewood Clinic, students can practice using communication skills from Health Literacy Intensive classes. “I’m able to discuss my education and experiences in a way that both promotes Oral Health and uses the HLI techniques” (S. Nice). Effective communication with patients of different communities can be taught in class, but the concept must be fully grasped through personal interactions.
Acquiring the skills to communicate with patients of various backgrounds emphasizes the core of the aforementioned curriculums. While Tufts targets our immediate communities, special attention is provided for vulnerable populations. “Dental care can be overlooked because it is not something that is strongly enforced in many cultures”(G. Surti). Dr. Morgan, who specializes in global dental health, compliments this Tufts value through his initiatives abroad by facilitating a Global Service Learning program. “This class [GSL] has given me the foundation and start of a skill set; that will allow me to promote and establish long lasting improvements to the oral healthcare in underserved communities” (R. Geary).
The first year of dental school was characterized by developing manual dexterity, memorizing and applying basic sciences, and cultivating communication skills. Classroom-centered learning can only account for so much of in the field of dentistry. “These activities have helped me put dentistry in perspective as the sum of many variables, not just my hand skills” (H. Fadie). The Oral Health Promotion class provided the framework and support for first year dental students to begin the lifelong practice of communicating, caring, and teaching patients and future dentists our newly acquired skills in the local community and abroad. During the spring semester, the D18 class collectively spent 2,525 hours volunteering their time and effort at over 90 different health promotion initiatives.
Compiled by Alec Eidelman