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UIC students honored with 2010 ADAF Tarrson award

The typical week for the typical dental student is packed with hours of lectures, exams and marking time in the laboratory. Junior and senior students juggle all that with hands-on procedures and working in the school’s clinic. Not to mention all the homework and exams that come with the territory.

Image: Jazmine Daye, a second-year UIC dental student, examines a patient
Learning: Jazmine Daye, a second-year UIC dental student, examines a patient Jan. 29 at Goldie’s Place, a support center for Chicago’s homeless. UIC received the 2010 ADA Foundation E. Bud Tarrson Access to Oral Health Care Award for its student volunteer work at the center.

And lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s exhausting, this road to becoming a dentist, but also exhilarating. That’s why two Saturdays and one Sunday a month students from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry forgo sleeping in to tackle lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom when they visit Goldie’s Place—a support center for Chicago’s homeless.

For their significant—and dedicated—contribution to student outreach, the ADA Foundation awarded UIC with the 2010 Bud Tarrson Dental School Student Community Leadership Award.

The ADA Foundation created the E. Bud Tarrson Access to Oral Health Care Award in 2003 to honor philanthropist Bud Tarrson, former chief executive officer and owner of the John O. Butler Company. Each year, the award recognizes one exemplary volunteer community service project developed by dental students.

Image: UIC dental student Anuja Kothari
Saturday morning smile: UIC dental students like Anuja Kothari, a second-year student, are on a rotation list for volunteering at Goldie’s Place.

No ordinary assistance center, Goldie's Place since 1996 has strived to help homeless adults become self-sufficient by providing life skills, education and support. The affiliation with UIC began in 1997 when alumnus, Dr. William Bjork, wanted to provide dental dental services to the men and women who came there. In 2008, he and Johanna Dalton, executive director at Goldie’s, approached Dr. Caswell Evans to ask about getting UIC’s dental students involved.

“One of our goals at UIC is to prepare an oral health care workforce that is competent in and committed to addressing the oral health needs of vulnerable and underserved populations and to play its part in eliminating health disparities,” said Dr. Evans, the faculty mentor for the project and associate dean of prevention and public health sciences at UIC.

“Working with Goldie’s Place helps us achieve our objective. Both the homeless and students benefit from this partnership,” he added. “We expect that this experience will resonate with them throughout their professional careers and will make a difference. It is wonderful that their hard work and dedication has been recognized through this prestigious award.”

Students are not required to volunteer, but in 2010, 78—a fourth of UIC’s dental students—did just that. Since December 2008, the students have provided $60,256 worth of services, including cleanings, restorations, root canal therapy, extractions, crowns and dentures.

Image: Third-year student Akash Patel performs an exam.
Hands on: Third-year student Akash Patel performs an exam.

During the week, the center is fully staffed with volunteer licensed dental professionals. Dr. Esther Lopez, a UIC alumnus and the force behind establishing the student-run clinic, is the clinical director. Two students, Rana Shahi and Brian Homann, serve as the clinic’s student leaders for those Saturdays and Sundays the students volunteer. There are also three team captains who serve as managers of the individual sessions.

Though UIC students are supervised at all times by volunteer faculty advisors, they are responsible for every part of the clinic from staffing the reception area to assigning people to cover sterilization, radiology and dental assistant duties. Each role is assigned based on experience and clinical competency. They even have to solicit for donated dental supplies and laboratory services.

“This student-run clinic is absolutely unique and the first and only of its kind,” Dr. Evans explained. “Faculty volunteers ensure necessary supervision for students and the services, but their role is operationally invisible—unless of course there is a matter that they must attend to. Beyond that, literally every facet of the clinic is planned and operated by the students.”

Image: Tam Trinh explains the next step for a patient to Rajpaul Singh
Student-run: In his role as provider on Jan. 29, Tam Trinh (back to camera), a third-year student at UIC, explains the next step for a patient to second-year student Rajpaul Singh.

“Running the clinic at Goldie’s Place is also much different than providing care at [school],” wrote Mr. Homann in the university’s nomination letter. “At UIC, if something breaks, we move to a different operatory. If we do not have the right supply, we ask the sterilization unit and they either find it for us or order the product. At Goldie’s Place, the students deal with real world situations. We have to learn to cope with situations when a unit breaks or when we do not have enough of a certain supply. It is up to the students to create a solution for every problem.”

In receiving the Tarrson Award, UIC is also the beneficiary of a $5,000 grant that Dr. Evans says will be used to continue to enhance the students’ outreach by purchasing supplies for the dental clinic at Goldie’s Place.

Patient success stories are another part of the learning process for the UIC students.

“A homeless person is almost impossible to define,” wrote Mr. Homann, who is president of UIC’s student chapter of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry and hopes to graduate and work for a federally qualified health center. “We hear stories about people working two jobs, seven days a week who can’t afford housing because they are the sole provider for their entire family including children, spouse and elderly parents. One of the most memorable stories came from one of the very first clinic sessions. When a man was asked about his employment history, he said he had a Ph.D. and used to be a professor at a community college. Realizing that homeless people can be educated, living well and due to unfortunate circumstances be thrust into homelessness changed how most of us view the homeless community.”

Hearing that, Linda Tarrson, who initiated the award in honor of her late husband, Bud, said UIC’s sentiments summarized the spirit of the award.

Image: Team captain Jason Foreman helps a patient
See you soon: Team captain Jason Foreman, a third-year dental student at UIC, helps a patient schedule a follow-up appointment for dentures.

“The big thing is that this gives them experience, not only in dentistry but in life,” she said. “Bud would have been thrilled that the dental students not only get to work in the clinic but that they learn to manage a practice/business while they’re volunteering in the community. It’s a priceless experience.”

One patient, Sam McNail, 59, said after falling on hard times, he’s been without teeth since 2008. As he waited after a Jan. 29 visit to schedule a follow-up appointment for his dentures, he talked about the challenges of meeting new people and trying to chew food. He said he was grateful that he won’t have to wait much longer.

“You can’t imagine what it’s like,” he said. “I’m excited to smile again.”

For more information about the Tarrson Award or other ADA Foundation programs, visit

Image: Dr. Caswell Evans and Brian Homann pose with Linda Tarrson
Honored: Dr. Caswell Evans (left) and third-year dental student Brian Homann of the University of Illinois Chicago College of Dentistry pose with Linda Tarrson, founder of the ADA Foundation E. Bud Tarrson Access to Oral Health Care Award. UIC received the award for its student clinic at Goldie’s Place, a support center for the homeless.