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Student-driven event provides more than 280 with dental care

April 03, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Let's get clinical: Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry students led the patient care during its inaugural Oral Health Day event March 11 cosponsored by the dental school, Remote Area Medical and the school's chapter of the American Student Dental Association. More than 280 patients were served at the school's clinic.
Nashville, Tenn. — Dental students took the lead in treating hundreds of adults who have little or no access to dental care during Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry's first Oral Health Day on March 11 at the school's clinic.

Cosponsored by Remote Area Medical, Meharry's chapter of the American Student Dental Association, and the dental school, the event was conceived after Meharry third-year dental student Audrey Fields attended the ASDA leadership conference in 2015 in Chicago. It was there that she heard about an event organized by students in Alabama, her home state, where underserved community members were provided with dental care.

"I just thought it sounded so amazing and a day of giving back fits perfect with our mission at Meharry," Ms. Fields said.

When she returned to Nashville with the idea, a Meharry faculty member, Dr. Janet Southerland, who is also a Remote Area Medical board member, suggested Ms. Fields reach out to the group for support. Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit based in Knoxville, Tennessee, regularly hosts clinics that provide dental care — and medical care and other services — to underserved populations, like the one Ms. Fields had in mind.

The groups joined forces to organize, promote and fund the day of service. Students also connected with local safety net organizations to get the word out to prospective patients about the clinic.

The collaboration was effective.

Patients started lining up outside the clinic the night before it was scheduled to begin, said Meharry third-year student Douglas Reid, who led the ASDA organizing efforts with Ms. Fields.

Vivacious volunteers: Meharry Medical College staff, students and other volunteers gather for a photo March 11 during the school-hosted Oral Health Day event, during which more than 280 adult patients received dental care.
By the end of the 14-hour workday, more than 280 patients received X-rays, fillings, extractions and more, thanks to more than 200 volunteers comprised of Meharry students, faculty and staff as well as Remote Area Medical and community volunteers. Students did much of the dental work and received academic credit for it as faculty oversaw the work, Ms. Fields said.

"It was all hands on deck," said Dr. John Osborn, dental director for Remote Area Medical.

Patients were educated about options of obtaining follow-up dental care before they left the clinic, and organizers collected contact information from the patients so they could be contacted when the school hosts its second Oral Health Day, anticipated for next year, said Mr. Reid.

Ms. Fields, now the vice president of Meharry's ASDA chapter, said the appreciation from the patients, recalling one patient who "cried tears of joy" after much needed extractions, made the exhausting day worth all the effort.

Said Dr. Osborn, "It's really nice to be able to go out on the weekends and help people on such a large scale thanks to institutions such as RAM and Meharry. I think that's what most of us got into dentistry for: to help others."