It is Not About the Number
HAYLEE HUMES Class of 2017
Our leader dentist’s words had yet to resonate. I hoped to learn from the vast experience in service trips as well as from the combined years of practice of the dental team leading our trip. After hours of travel on a rocky road in a sweaty bus, we finally arrived at our destination in the valley of an undeniably beautiful mountain range in Haiti. Swatting mosquitoes, the group began the arduous task of assembling the clinic in Hinche.
Perhaps because I had never been so directly responsible, I felt both more invested and yet more helpless than ever before. Despite all the care we provided, I became heartbroken by patients asking for replacement teeth after extractions or by those we had to turn away at the end of the day. During one particularly difficult hour on the first day, I balanced a terrified 10-year-old boy preparing to lose his abscessed first molars with an exuberant and thankful teenage girl whose fractured anterior teeth I was able to restore. We had expert dentists in esthetics, oral surgery and general dentistry ready to provide guidance and help.
I began to understand my mentor’s message. It was not about the number. I now realize the number of patients seen could never be our primary goal. Instead, we were creating a community where it was safe for the patients to ask questions about their health, seek advice on home care, and learn more about children’s dental health. Inspiring our translators to be leaders for health care in the community through education, we dispelled myths about tooth color and decay. In partnership with the incredibly brilliant physician normally occupying the clinic, we were able to diagnose and seek treatment for many life-threatening illnesses. Our team was also invaluable: We had top executives and CEOs running for instruments, fixing any malfunctioning equipment, and generally making it possible for us to provide dental care. Their enthusiasm to serve and be involved was inspiring. While we wished we could have helped more people, we were joyful in the care we were able to provide.
The people of Haiti, the willingness of our dental team to serve the community and the students, and the generosity of resources and time of Dr. Ken McMillan, clinical adjunct faculty at the DCG, and our other dental leaders changed our lives and our understanding of our role in health care. Our group is beyond thankful for the experience and felt far more prepared than our peers heading into our senior year of dental school. I plan to continue giving back both in my community and abroad as I continue to grow in the practice of dentistry.