When I began trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my professional career, my focus was on what I would be happy doing here in Indiana.
Things changed a bit for me during this past year, as my pre-dental plans became more tangible and I spent my time shadowing general dentists, participating in a dental education-focused service trip to Costa Rica, and completing my application to dental school.
Through these experiences, I learned that I wanted to expand my impact beyond Indiana and see how I could apply my future dental education to healthcare for the underserved on a volunteer basis outside the United States.
This past summer, I shadowed a general dentist who led a large private practice in Fort Wayne but also traveled to the Dominican Republic twice per year with a dental team he assembled to provide needed dental procedures to underserved communities. He measured his success not in the size of his profitable practice, but in his ability to treat the dental needs and improve the lives of those in his community and beyond.
I was lucky enough to get a taste of what he was talking about this past March when I traveled to Guanacaste, Costa Rica with other students in the Honors College at IUPUI. While there, our group visited schools in rural areas to provide dental hygiene education and assist with dental exams for the students in attendance there.
It became clear that many of these students had never seen a dentist before, and for those that had, regular six-month screenings weren’t common in their community, as dental practices were concentrated in urban areas many miles away.
We worked primarily with an orthodontist who commuted each day from her office in Nicoya, and I assisted her in providing dental exams and hygiene products to the schoolchildren we saw each day in Cartegena. Besides managing her own orthodontics office, she spends a considerable amount of time donating her dental expertise by partnering with service groups with the mission of helping underprivileged kids.
Through volunteering alongside her, I began to picture myself in the future as a dental professional giving back to those who need it most. I fully intend to return to Costa Rica as a dental student or dentist and not just assist in screenings and hygiene education, but volunteer my services to provide needed dental care myself.
I applied to dental school this cycle, and hope to begin my journey as a learning dentist in July. The Indiana University School of Dentistry was first attractive to me as a potential dental student due to its numerous outreach programs and established student-run free dental clinic.
While interviewing there in September, I learned that IUSD offers study abroad service trips in Africa and Central and South America, and I was sold. After my unforgettable Costa Rica trip with the Honors College, I can’t wait to get out there again and know I’ll be taking at least one of these service trips with IUSD.
My interest in giving back through donated dental services was first realized in Costa Rica with the Honors College, and I’m so glad this experience was everything I thought it would be and more.