Building student involvement, fostering civic engagement and enhancing community service to advance public health. 

 

With the alarm blaring at 6:30 am, I awoke to the sun rising on a Monday morning. However, this was no ordinary Monday; I wasn’t getting ready to go to school, but rather was preparing for my first day of a weeklong service trip in Jamaica. Within the hour, I quickly got changed, packed my camera, and ran by the hotel cafeteria to get a bite to eat to sustain me for the long day ahead. Finally reaching the bus, I was greeted by the other students and faculty that had made the trip from their homes to volunteer their time and service to the local population. With excitement and a hint of nervousness in the air, we all departed the hotel for a two-hour ride to our first location.

As the driver navigated the dangerous, narrow, and winding roads for the last thirty minutes of the drive, it seemed like an eternity before he told us that we would be at our destination in less than a mile. As I looked out the window, I noticed a few villagers walking in the same direction as the bus was driving. As we got closer to the site, I noticed a larger crowd of people, again walking in the same direction. When we finally reached the church in the town of Clermont, the bus was greeted with all of the local residents awaiting the basic dental care that they experience only through these volunteer events. As my fellow classmates and I were second years, we were to work with the dental hygienists with basic scaling and prophy treatment. With the line for treatment wrapping outside of the church, we worked diligently with the mindset of leaving no patient without treatment.

One patient that particularly stood out to me during the endless day was a teenage boy that came for a fluoride varnish. Upon examination, I had noticed rampant caries that had affected most of his lower teeth and swelling that according to my academic training indicated extraction. After telling him that he should go to the extraction side of the dental operation to get a consult, tears immediately began to form in his eyes. Seeing his tears, it made me step back and realize that even though according to my knowledge the procedure would be quite simple, to the teenage boy it was a procedure that seemed so foreign and horrifying. Scared, he asked me if I could go with him, a request that I happily agreed to.

Upon meeting the oral surgeon, anesthesia was given and he was set up to get six extractions. It was at this moment that he told me how much pain those teeth had been causing him and that he would do anything to get out of pain. When I asked him why he didn’t get any treatment previously, he indicated that his family had no access to dental care. At this particular moment, I realized for the first time on the trip not only how badly the local population needed dental care and education, but also how much they wanted it.

Holding his hand throughout the extractions, his determination in getting out of chronic pain far outweighed his vast fear; this was clear by the almost complete blanching of my hand due to the immense amount of force he was squeezing it with. After the three minutes that seemed like an eternity for him, he was told to bite down on the gauze that was placed in his mouth, indicating he was all done. As he sat up, I was once again greeted by tears. However this time, it was a very different kind of tears: tears of joy. Knowing that he would no longer be in the amount of pain he had been in, he happily thanked me and excitedly began his four-mile walk home with his father.

As the week passed, there were countless moments that continued to strengthen my desire for service work. Aside from my love for dentistry, these moments really helped remind me no matter how minor or insignificant a procedure may seem to somebody, it could drastically change the quality of life for another. It was during these moments that I also realized global outreach is something that doesn’t end with a week or even a month long period of service, but it is an effort to build continued, sustainable care. Although the individuals in Jamaica were so thankful for our service, I will forever be indebted to them for the lessons and memories I hold close to my heart today.

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