UAA dental hygiene students step up to serve Alaskans in need
by Vicki Nechodomu |
The Remote Area Medical (RAM) nonprofit clinic recently made its first visit to Alaska, setting up pop-up clinics in Anchorage and Fairbanks to provide free dental, vision, and medical services to those in need. However, RAM faced a challenge when it came to staffing the clinics with dental hygiene volunteers.
Fortunately, the University of Alaska Dental Hygiene program and its director, Carri Shamburger, stepped up to the plate. Despite the long hours and no academic credit, the majority of the program's juniors and seniors signed up to provide the entire dental hygiene crew for both clinics, with RAM paying to fly 11 of the students and a supervising faculty to Fairbanks for the second clinic. Several sophomores in the program also volunteered, filling runner roles, and one dental assisting student supported local dentists.
“We teach students in our program to have empathy and compassion for the community in which they’re a part of,” said Shamburger. “Our career is in high demand, and it’s a well-paid career, but I want our students to experience what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to be a part of something that gives back, and to have that feeling of compassion for other people. And this provided the opportunity to experience that.”
While students in the dental hygiene program gain a lot of experience in UAA’s on-campus Dental Clinic and several specialized series of days that offer discounted services to students and children, the RAM clinic provided a different level of experience. Since RAM does not charge any fee or even require an ID, many barriers were removed for patients, particularly those who are housing insecure and those who have not had access to dental care in as many as 5-10 years.
"I like helping people in general, but I feel like it feels even more rewarding helping people who really need it," said Meachah Caamano-Moreno, a UAA Dental Hygiene student. "These people obviously really want to be seen, and this is one of just two days that they can come and do it. I want to be a part of it and reach those people who don’t have the opportunity to even be seen at reduced cost clinics like UAA’s."
For dental hygiene junior Valerie Beitter, the opportunity to volunteer at the RAM clinics was an affirmation of her interest in public health. "I’m really interested in working in public health, so I want to help the community with their health. Being able to be part of this right now just kind of solidifies why I want to go into public health because it’s another step towards health equity," said Beitter.
The UAA Dental Hygiene students were a critical component of the RAM clinics, as dental hygiene was one of the most high-demand services requested by patients. Marina Pack, another senior in the program, recognized the tremendous experience she gained at the clinic, as the patients came in with more challenging dental hygiene needs than many she had encountered in her training so far. She found the level of patient gratitude to be touching. The experience confirmed, for her, what her next step in life will be. "This experience has cemented that I eventually want to end up in Public Health. I had an inclination that I would want to go on that track, and this kind of confirmed it," said Pack.
RAM's visit to Alaska was a tremendous success, providing over $150,000 in services to over 340 Alaskans.
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