Yunji Lee and Nadia Malik, both DMD 13, recently spent a week together in the village of Chiligatoro, Honduras, sleeping in sparse beds and taking cold showers. Yet, they describe it as one of the best trips they have ever taken.
The two fourth-year dental students participated in a life-changing international externship from September 8 through 15, 2012, with the organization Medico, a nonprofit humanitarian service organization that has been providing comprehensive health care in Central America since 1990. Lee and Malik saw about 100 patients each day and worked with a team of 20 people including dentists, translators, and other individuals looking to help in any way they could.
“Being there teaches you the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want,’” Malik says. “It changes the way you think.”
Lee and Malik performed both fillings and extractions for people who walked and waited hours to be treated. As Lee points out, the remote location presented new challenges for them.
“A tooth that is easily fixable here in the US is not as easily fixed there,” Lee says. Both Lee and Malik regretted they were unable to save more teeth from extraction, but they knew that they, along with their group leaders, had made the best decisions for the patients.
Malik added, “In the US, there are huge access to care issues, but often you can still find care. In Honduras, it’s often not even an option because of issues such as distance, finances, and lack of education.”
Lee and Malik are incredibly grateful for their experience, which was funded by donations to the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental MedicineDMD Annual Fund. “So many people and good deeds helped us to go on this externship,” Malik says. “We are just the lucky ones who got to go and help people and got hugs from the children there.” Lee and Malik expressed their thanks personally at the GSDM Alumni Board meeting on Friday, September 21, 2012.
Assistant Director of Extramural Programs Kathy Held says of international externships such as this, “It’s really hard work under difficult conditions, but the rewards are better than if you were lying on the beach on vacation.”
Medico ended the trip by treating volunteers to a night at a lakeside hotel where Lee and Malik enjoyed comfortable beds and, yes, warm showers!