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University of Louisville student initiative earns Bud Tarrson Award

May 21, 2012

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

Louisville, Ky.—If you’re a dental student, there are many personal and professional benefits to participating in charitable dental care at clinics for the uninsured. You acquire new skills and hone old ones. You experience fulfillment for your humanitarian efforts. And, you just never know, you might even find love.

Outstanding: University of Louisville dental students who were on the 2011 Bud Tarrson Award-winning team, include (from left) Caroline Curtis, Paul Maizan, Farzan Pouranfar, Brooke Fukuoka-Osgood, Amy Boeckermann and Trey Parker.

All these things happened for the University of Louisville students who won the 2011 Tarrson Dental School Community Leadership Award—though only one of them ended up finding his future wife in the process.

The Tarrson Award annually recognizes one outstanding dental student-organized volunteer project and provides a $5,000 award in support of the school. The ADA Foundation created the award in 2003 in honor of Bud Tarrson, former chief executive officer and owner of the John O. Butler Co. and an oral health philanthropist. His widow, Linda Tarrson, continues to be actively involved in the program as a way to honor his memory.

University of Louisville dental students won the 2011 award for their efforts to create a student chapter of Remote Area Medical Kentucky, a nonprofit organization that provides medical care to patients in areas with no access to the medical community (as its name suggests) and to uninsured patients living in rural and urban areas.

University of Louisville student involvement in RAM events started incrementally around 2005, said Dr. Lee Mayer, an associate professor at U. of L. who mentors the RAM Kentucky students. “There was a small group of students who were aware of a RAM project in West Virginia,” Dr. Mayer said. “They had friends in Virginia, and they had attended and participated in the RAM event there. The following year, they asked if I would go because I have a dental license in Virginia.”

Future clinician: University of Louisville dental student Caroline Curtis helps a member of the U.S. Public Health Service treat a patient.

A few years lapsed before there was another meaningful effort by U. of L. students to participate in another RAM event, Dr. Mayer said. But then a few freshmen students attended an event in 2008 and met Dr. Bill Collins of Pikeville, Ky. “He is a graduate of University of Louisville,” Dr. Mayer said. “He called and asked if U. of L. could participate in a RAM clinic in his community. I checked with the dental school administration, and they agreed it would be good for the students and good for the school. We decided to participate.”

There was no looking back, and two students led the way to recruit four more to formalize a recognized student entity.

Student Farzan Pouranfar was the group’s president. He and friend Paul Maizan, who became secretary, recruited Caroline Curtis, vice president; Trey Parker, treasurer; Brooke Fukuoka, floater; and Amy Boeckermann, publicist.

“These six are the foundation of the University of Louisville RAM student organization, which is an official student entity,” Dr. Mayer said. “They participated whenever possible in RAM events. They are the backbone.”

“I’ve deemed them my Super Six, and that’s what I’ve called them for the last three years because when we walk into a clinic, we clean up the mess,” Dr. Collins said. “We try our best not to turn away patients, no matter where we go.”

The students often funded their own road trips to weekend RAM events in either Kentucky or Tennessee, where they worked long hours with Dr. Collins treating patients.

“It’s no joke,” Mr. Pouranfar said. “We go out on a Friday. We drive out to wherever it is. We get a good night’s rest, and then the next morning we get up at 4 o’clock and get ready because the doors open at 6 o’clock Saturday morning.”

The RAM volunteers meet for dinner and then rise again at 6 a.m. on Sunday, but end their workday at noon. “We drive back to Louisville, and then we go to school on Monday,” Mr. Pouranfar said. “So it’s tough. It’s exhausting, but at the same time, it’s rejuvenating. You come back, and say, 'I just saw 50 patients over the weekend, and it feels good.’ It’s a big rush.”

RAM Kentucky student chapter members get rigorous treatment experiences at the events where they provide care to patients under faculty supervision.

“It’s given me more exposure to patients, more procedures, much more than I could have done at school because anywhere from 700 to 1,000 patients are seen during these events, during those two days of the weekend,” Mr. Pouranfar said. “That kind of patient exposure you just can’t get at school. I’ve seen things that I would have never seen at school. You see difficult extraction cases. You see medically compromised patients.”

Hands-on: Under faculty supervision, students treat patients at a Pike County, Ky., RAM clinic.

Collectively, they participated in clinics that racked up impressive treatment numbers at 2011 RAM events, including 1,628 patients, 1,720 extractions, 568 restorations, 278 prophy procedures, and 82 denture repairs and relines.

“They’re good practitioners,” Dr. Collins said. “When they walk in, I have no worry at all that these kids know what they’re doing. They’ve helped with surgical extractions and difficult restorative cases. They’re good at what they do.”

Aside from helping to treat patients, the students were able to work as trainers with the U.S. Public Health Service in training Appalachian communities for disasters.

An extra special payoff for Mr. Pouranfar is that he met his fiancée, Dona Taherizadegan, who was a dental student at the University of Buffalo participating in a RAM event in Pikeville, Ky.

“It’s definitely paved my way to the future,” Mr. Pouranfar said. “Personally, because of this one thing, meeting my future wife, it’s been even a much more gratifying experience than for anybody else.”

Since they met at a RAM event, Mr. Pouranfar’s fiancée has graduated from dental school and is completing a general practice residency in Louisville. While Mr. Pouranfar completes his last year of dental school—including training the next round of officers of the U. of L. RAM student chapter—Ms. Taherizadegan is finishing up her residency. Then they’re off to Germany.

“I have an Army scholarship,” Mr. Pouranfar said. “We just got word last week that I’ll be going to Germany. I’ll be stationed there for four years starting Aug. 1. We’re going to get married before we go. She’s going to work for the Army as a civilian dentist.”

Mentor: The 2011 Tarrson award-winning team poses with Stan Brock (third from right), founder of Remote Area Medical.

Mr. Pouranfar and the original six students are currently passing the baton to 12 new students who will be in the trenches at Remote Area Medical events. “They’re going to take our places, and they have this grant now to take RAM in any direction they want,” Mr. Pouranfar said. “We had a little discussion as to what we would have done with it, and how we would have acted.

“They’re really young, educated and enthusiastic dentists-to-be. We’re really happy to have them carry this forward. We made sure that the 12 people who are taking over have been to at least one RAM, so they know what it’s all about. They’ve seen it firsthand.”

The students intend to use the Tarrson Award to purchase head lamps for RAM Kentucky events, Dr. Mayer said. They also may use some of the funds to defray transportation costs, Mr. Pouranfar said.

Dr. Collins would like to continue the RAM student chapter’s winning ways and to reach more patients in Kentucky.

“My goal is that we do this across the state of Kentucky, and everybody’s going to have at least one chance a year to be seen for something that they need,” Dr. Collins said.

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