Emily Williams (center) and several classmates and faculty members volunteer regularly at Augusta’s Equality Clinic to serve members of the LGBTQ community.

Community Outreach: Breaking Down Barriers

Emily Williams’ days are jam-packed as she rushes from classrooms to clinics to complete her senior year of dental school.

But she reserves plenty of energy for after hours as well — particularly the evenings she spends volunteering for a patient population near and dear to her heart: some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Williams was thrilled when she learned of a student-run initiative to serve members of the LGBTQ community. The initiative, the Equality Clinic, was established in 2014 to provide physicals, mental health support, blood work, screenings and other services to uninsured and under-insured members of the community who may feel disenfranchised from society. The clinic, staffed by Augusta University medical, dental and allied health sciences students and overseen by volunteer faculty, is open the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month in the AU Health Sciences Building. Volunteers also take their services off campus, including manning a booth at the annual Augusta Pride Festival.

Says Williams, who has served as co-coordinator of the clinic the past two years, “I’m really drawn to public health dentistry, and there are very few clinics like this in the Southeast, outside of major urban areas like Atlanta. I just love helping people improve their overall quality of life.”

Williams, an Atlanta native who will complete a DCG periodontics residency after graduation, always dreamed of a career enabling her to work with her hands and help people optimize their health. “I think public health dentistry is really fun,” she says. “Teaching people small steps that can make a big difference in their lives is very rewarding.”

“Approximately 30 DCG students per semester man the clinic, and many of them are repeat volunteers,” says Dr. Kurt Metzler, assistant professor in the Department of Restorative Sciences and an advisor in the clinic. “The Equality Clinic provides students in all disciplines of health care the experience of managing and supporting a particular, and historically ignored, segment of our population,” says Metzler. “This clinic demands a special level of empathy and compassion from our students and facilitates an appreciation of the impact of dental health within a broader medical plan.”

The most fulfilling part, says Williams, is the enduring relationships that form in the clinic. “The patients seem to really like talking to us. We’re all about breaking down barriers,” she says. “And if we end up referring them to the DCG for follow-up treatment, it’s always really great seeing them as we’re walking down the halls.”

For more information about the Equality Clinic, visit equalityclinicaugusta.squarespace.com.

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