Students and Alums Contribute to Improving Global Oral Health in Panama

panama_externship-200One sign that Melissa Knudsen DMD 13 and Rachel Lukas DMD 13 were on a valuable mission in Panama: their emergency contact phone number while there was the Office of the First Lady. The two Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) students, together with a team of dentists and health workers, provided dental services to more than 600 patients during their visit to the town of Pedasi. GSDM was well-represented in the outreach group, which included alumni Jose Alamo DMD 06, Frank Casarella DMD 88, Steve MacHardy DMD 07, Christina Thompson DMD 06, and Elizabeth Walker DMD 06.

From January 18 to 28, 2013, the GSDM students and alumni joined a mission in Pedasi, Panama, headed by Northeast Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (NEVOSH). NEVOSH—originally an organization focused on providing vision care, globally, to those who cannot afford or obtain it—now treats a spectrum of health conditions in its Central America clinics.

The cultural and clinical situations provided by international externships present unique learning opportunities for dental students. In Pedasi, Knudsen and Lukas saw many people who had never been to a dentist and numerous children whose baby teeth were extensively decayed. They also saw some conditions that they had previously seen only in textbooks, such as extreme calculus buildup. The two became much more confident in their extraction skills, more self-assured in screening decisions, and more efficient overall. Knudsen and Lukas also benefited from both one-on-one mentorship and the chance to work on their own.

Knudsen and Lukas expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to provide their service in Panama. Lukas commented: “Between the people I traveled and worked with, the patients I saw, the dentistry I performed, the beautiful surroundings and accommodations, the amazing cuisine I sampled, my trip to Panama was fantastic.” Knudsen had a similarly positive assessment: “It was amazing!” She also cited having great mentors and teachers.

Knudsen and Lukas highly recommend a mission trip for all students as an integral part of their dental education. Both Knudsen and Lukas are eager to join the same mission next year and to continue their service in the future.

Team leader Christina Thompson DMD 06 commented that Knudsen “did great working with the group and working in uncomfortable conditions” and that Lukas “was an asset to our team.” She thanked GSDM for sending two excellent students.

Said Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter, “On behalf of the entire Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine community, I express my thanks to Melissa and Rachel for working hard to support the mission of our School to improve the overall health of the global population and for serving as positive exemplars for our School abroad.”

Photos from the trip are available on Facebook and Flickr.